Public Hearing, August 22, 2013
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION
August 22, 2013
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
COMMISSION HEARING ROOM
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744
REPORTED BY: PAIGE SLOAN WATTS
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome. I'm going to go ahead and call the meeting to order, August 22nd, 2013, at 9:10 a.m. Okay, great. Thanks.
Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. Public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.
Mr. Chairman and the Commission, I want to join y'all in welcoming everybody today. We appreciate in particular all the families and friends that have come in today as we honor colleagues for in many cases their decades and decades of service. We're going to honor some colleagues that have served this Agency very well as they celebrate their retirements and move on to the next chapter of their lives and so I want to thank everybody who's come in from near and far to be with us.
That will be the first part of the meeting and so after we finish up the service awards and retirements and some special awards, the Chairman will just briefly call a recess so that those who don't want to stay for the duration of the meeting this morning can go ahead and leave. For those of you who are staying for the meeting in the latter part of the morning and if you plan to speak for or against any of the action items that the Commission is going to be contemplating, I just would remind you respectfully that you sign up outside. At the appropriate time, the Chairman will call you and ask you to come forward. You'll be given three minutes to state your position and just ask that you share your name and who you represent and then to share your position thoughtfully and respectfully, which I know you will. And so thank you for joining us this morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Carter. Next on -- up is approval of minutes from the previous Commission meeting held May 23rd, 2013, which have already been distributed. Do we have a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER LEE: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Lee. Second by Commissioner Hughes. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
And now acknowledgment of the list of donations, which have also been distributed. Do we have a motion for approval? Commissioner Scott. Second Commissioner Morian. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any apposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
And now, Carter, we've got the retirement and service awards.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of Commission. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. We're going to start off and honor several of our colleagues who have served this Agency and this State very proudly and it's certainly fitting that we'll start off with a colleague in state parks who literally and figuratively has taken care of God's country out in West Texas.
Rod Trevizo, native boy of Presidio. Grown in his professional career, became the Complex Superintendent at Big Bend Ranch State Park. It's the largest state park in your state park complex. You know, nearly 325,000, 350,000 acres out in the Big Bend country. Also includes Fort Leaton Historic Site, as well as the Barton Warnock Visitor Center there, which is a state-of-the-art visitor center which provides a great representation of the Chihuahuan desert landscape and celebrates one of the State's most noted and prominent botanists. And Rod has been with us for 30 years and he's just done a phenomenal job of looking after his home ground, overseeing literally hundreds of thousands of acres out there and also overseeing really a transformation of the Big Bend Ranch State Park to put in more trails and camping sites and really helping to facilitate opportunities for Texans and their families to get out and enjoy one of the great wilderness experiences in our state.
And so awfully proud to celebrate Rod Trevizo, 30 years of service. Rod.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague, Kathy Boydston, who's also retired. She's gone, but she hadn't gone far and I'll explain that in just a minute. Kathy has been with us for 26 years. Started off in our State Parks Division back in 1986 and then was involved in our Resource Protection Division and then was promoted to our Wildlife Habitat Assessment Coordinator within our Wildlife Division where she led a team of 8 or 10 wildlife biologists around the state that really had the principal responsibility for reviewing all major development projects throughout the state and providing thoughtful and substantiated scientific input to help make sure that fish and wildlife considerations could be integrated in the decisions over power lines and highways and reservoirs and really did a great job working with industry and landowners and all the multiple stakeholders that get involved in issues that oftentimes can be pretty contentious and so Kathy did that very well throughout her career.
She's retiring after 26 years of service. She has taken on a job with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency's as their Energy and Wildlife Coordinator, so she's now working on the national front. She's officing out of this office. But perhaps one of the best gifts she's given us is her daughter, who's now working for us. And so Kathy Boydston, 26 years of service. Kathy.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Our next colleague I think many of you know well. Mike Ray, literally one of the heart and soul of our Coastal Fisheries team. Mike is just an extraordinary professional leader, colleague. Started out as a Regional Hatchery Manager down on the coast and Mike really was involved and instrumental in leading the development of really all of our flagship hatcheries -- the CCA/CPL hatchery there in Corpus that he and Gene McCarty worked on together. Also, Sea Center there in Lake Jackson. Again, another extraordinary facility. Was later promoted to come to Austin to oversee all of the hatchery operations for our Fisheries programs in both inland and coastal and played a leadership role with the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens and so those hatcheries, as all of you know, produce up to 40 million fingerlings a year that are stocked back in our inland and marine waters, provide extraordinary opportunities for fishermen to get out and enjoy our great state.
Mike's been the architect of that. He's represented us on the national stage throughout the Gulf on the Gulf States Fisheries Commission, Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Council. Also, and as you'll get to hear a little bit more about this later, Mike and Scott Boruff particular and others, very involved with the recovery of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle down in Mexico and Mike's awfully proud of that as are we. Mike's been with us for 25 years and retiring. Mike Ray.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: I should have read this ahead of time. You Aggies are going to love this. Scott Boruff, avid Longhorn and loves when the Longhorns whip up on the Aggies and the Red Raiders, which is, quote, pretty frequent in writing there; so Boruff clearly had a hand in this one.
So Scott is retiring after 13 years with this Agency. Obviously, all of you had a chance to work extensively with Scott in his capacity as Deputy Executive Director. He started 13 years ago as our Director of Infrastructure. After a year and a half was promoted up to Deputy Executive Director and quickly got handed a bunch of new job titles from Interim Director of Law Enforcement, Interim Director of Wildlife, Interim Director of Resource Protection.
Literally was involved in all facets of our operations and really if you look back on Scott's 13 years with the Agency, there's just -- every single major thing inside this Agency, Scott has been involved with helping to guide or lead or influence and so I could literally go on and on with a litany of accomplishments. But, you know, whether it was the John Parker Fish Hatchery or creating the World Birding Center Complex down in the Rio Grande Valley, whether it was the acquisition of the land and the development of the new Game Warden Training Center there in Hamilton, whether it was overseeing the development of the new revenue and registration system for state parks, TxParks, an incredibly new complicated system, or all of the major land acquisition projects that this Commission supported, Scott has been a fierce, fierce advocate for the importance and criticality of acquiring land to add to your public land system. The Devils River, the Kronkosky bequest, Palo Duro Canyon, Fortress Cliffs, a new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park and so -- but I think as you reflect on Scott's time and tenure with the Agency and that legacy, one thing that I'll remind the Commission, Scott being the principal architect behind the Commission's vision on the State's Land and Water Plan in the last two updates and really helping to guide and influence the development of that plan to make sure that we've got a blueprint of how we're going to take care of our lands and waters, fish and wildlife and parks for generations of Texans now and to come. Scott Boruff, 13 years of service. Scott.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: I mentioned Mike and Scott involved in the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle and Kemp's Ridley is the most endangered sea turtle I think if certainly not the Western Hemisphere, perhaps the world. And the principal nesting beaches are down really in Mexico where historically they've had the huge arribada where the turtles would come in and lay their eggs and biologists have recognized that if we're going to recovery that sea turtle, you've got to protect those nesting beaches in Mexico, which are really the epicenter of that. And we've been very fortunate over the years to have just an extraordinary partnership with the Texas Shrimping Association, who's been a great partner in helping to protect the turtles and establishing turtle camps down there and working with Mike Ray and Scott and other colleagues on that and so we're honored today to have Les Hodgson from Brownsville as one of the Board members of the Texas Shrimping Association who really got the shrimpers involved in all of this and helped them take an active role and then Andrea Hance, their Executive Director, and I want to ask Les and Andrea to come forward to present a special award. So, Les, Andrea, please come forward.
MR. HODGSON: Thank you very much, Board. I'm Les Hodgson from the Texas Shrimp Association and this is Ms. Andrea Hance. She's the new Executive Director of Texas Shrimp Association and we're here today to talk about the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle and your participation in the project, which has been fantastic.
It's the -- it's one of the most endangered -- in fact, it's listed as critically endangered sea turtles, the most endangered in the world and it's making a recovery that is absolutely fantastic and because of that, back in 1995 when the Texas Shrimp Association bought the land and built the camp at Tepehuajes, we decided as a Shrimp Association that to publically talk about it or anything else was a waste of time.
The only thing important was that we recuperate this specie and we had Dr. Patrick Burchfield, the U.S. coordinator of the project come talk to the shrimp industry back then and he told us that it would be very important for us not to lose another specie in the Gulf of Mexico. That one specie has an effect on multiple other species and, of course, the favorite food of a turtle is a crab and the crabs don't do very well with their shrimp. They chop them up when they get them in their claws; so we're happy that the turtle is coming back and right now, I would like to introduce Ms. Andrea Hance, the Executive Director of Texas Shrimp Association, Andrea.
MS. HANCE: Yes, I just started actually last month and probably most of you people know Wilma Anderson; so I've got some pretty big shoes to fill. But for right now, I want to go ahead and present a couple of recognitions and the first one is to Mike Ray and this is his recognition of his support of the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Population Restoration Act, so.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MS. HANCE: Okay, and the second recognition goes to Scott and then Jeffrey Boruff.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MS. HANCE: And I just wanted to say real quick that I look forward to working with everybody and partnering up to continue the work that's been done to improve the population of the Ridley sea turtle. Thank you.
MR. HODGSON: I'd also like to read a quick note that Dr. Burchfield from the Gladys Porter Zoo wrote. He apologized for not coming here today, but he had a Board meeting and he's got family in town and about 14 other things. So what he said is in 2001, the level of federal support from U.S. agencies for the binational Kemp's Ridley recovery program reached a critically low level, far below what was needed to keep the U.S. field group of the binational recovery team in the field and relevant.
At that same time, it seemed as if the Ridley had stopped is pestiferous decline and the number of nesting females and nests were beginning to increase. Clearly, the battle to recover this most critically endangered sea turtle was and is centered around its principal nesting beaches in Mexico where more than 99 percent of this shared migratory specie nests occur annually. Fortuitously for the Ridley, a delegation from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department did an information gathering visit that year to the Ridley conservation camps. The rest is history.
Thanks to the continuous support, enthusiasm, hard work of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its dedicated and talented staff, the Kemp's Ridley is one of the very few ongoing successful endangered species recovery efforts. In any successful enterprise, if one looks behind the scenes you will encounter individuals who have made it a reality. In this instance, I wish to take the opportunity to thank Texas Parks and Wildlife employees, past and present, for all their hard work over the last years.
This said, it's heartening to us all to realize that a few dedicated individuals can make a difference against what many experts perceived as insurmountable odds against the recovery of this endangered species. At this time of their retirement, we of the U.S. Field Assistance Group of the Kemp's Ridley Binational Recovery Program wish to extend our sincere thinks to Mike Ray, Scott Boruff, and his late son Jeffrey, who was a valued member of our field recovery team and the entire Boruff family for their involvement, contribution on behalf of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtles. Thank you, Dr. Burchfield.
(Round of applause)
MR. HODGSON: Thank you very much, and I'd just like to say that Mike Ray has been the communication between seafood industry and the Ridley project for quite some time. He's always told us the truth and in the seafood industry, we judge a person by their word and Mike's word is law. He's never misled us or anything else and so we would just like to thank him very much and tell him from the sea turtle program, that he's been a real plus.
Scott Boruff on the other hand, Scott received -- Scott received a Ridley Award and the Ridley Award is something that the shrimp industry came up with a number of years ago. It's not a yearly award or anything else. It's an award that's given out to people who go above and beyond the requirements for whatever it is they're doing. And Scott got the award with Texas Parks and Wildlife the first go around. This time, he is getting it with his son Jeffrey because of their financial involvement in the fundraising activities of Yappopalooza, the -- that's made a huge difference and last year it was that fundraising capability that allowed the project to get started on time and give us the numbers to know where we're up to with the turtles. And I'd just like to mention that three years of the past seven, we have put over a million babies back in the wild.
Now, it takes 10 to 15 years for those babies to reach maturity and so we're not exactly sure how many of them are going to make it or live or what have you; but it's a good start. We're well on the way to being able to down list this turtle. We're on about the 5-yard line, and we hopefully won't stumble now.
So I would just like to thank Scott and Jeffrey Boruff for their participation and the fundraising efforts through Yappopalooza. Thank you very much.
(Round of applause)
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Les and Andrea. Absolutely, let's get this one over the goal line for sure.
We're going to now honor or colleagues for their years of service and we're going to start with one who's given this Agency and this State four decades of work. If you've lived or ranched or hunted in South Texas, you've come across Randy Fugate. Randy has been sort of Mr. South Texas for this Agency. Started out down in the Rio Grande Valley working on the White-winged dove project, helping to band doves and manage that kind of residual brush habitat down in the Rio Grande Valley which historically, as this Commission knows, really was the epicenter of White-winged doves before they started their kind of northern migration and I guess it was Scott -- '76, yeah, it's been a long time Randy.
1976 Randy moved up to Falfurrias as our Regulatory Technician working in the sand sheet and those deep South Texas counties working with the ranching community there on helping them to manage their deer and their quail and their turkeys and their habitat. He's written management plans literally on millions of acres there. Been a go-to guy for information on White-tailed deer management and management of habitat.
Been involved extensively with turkey related considerations. I think all of you remember last year that Randy was honored with the highest award from the National Wild Turkey Federation and we celebrated at a meeting right here, the Joe Kurz Excellence in Wildlife Management Award. Randy has given us 40 extraordinary years. Let's celebrate Randy Fugate. Randy, 40 years.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: I want to apologize for that pause. None of us recognized Randy in a tie, and so it took a little while for us to figure out who we were looking at there.
Our next colleague, Joyce Moore, has been one of those barrier breakers in this Agency. She grew up there on a ranch in the Hill Country near one of our state natural areas. Actually she started off her career 30 years ago in the State Parks Division as a seasonal employee. She's a Wildlife Biologist by background. After I think less than a year, she transferred to the Wildlife Division working really in her beloved Texas Hill Country on helping to manage our wildlife and wildlife habitat there.
In April of 2004, Joyce was named a Technical Guidance Biologist with the Agency. First time a woman had been promoted to that position, and it's no surprise that Joyce got that position. She's incredibly talented, great relationships with private landowners throughout the Edwards Plateau. The Lone Star Land Steward Award event, which many of you had a chance to come and attend, it is not uncommon at all for landowners that she's working with to be honored either in that Edwards Plateau ecoregion for their stewardship or even with the Leopold Land Steward Award, the most prestigious in the state. Joyce Moore has just done an extraordinary job representing this Agency, 30 years of service. Joyce.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Certainly our next colleague needs no introduction, Robin Riechers. Robin started out 25 years ago with the Agency. He was hired as an Economist actually I guess, Robin, in Coastal Fisheries. Ran our Human Dimensions Lab and program responsible for all of the survey data that the Coastal Fisheries Division collects, which as you know is extensive. You've heard a lot about just that treasure trove of biological and angler data that the Coastal Fisheries team has been known for really for decades. Set the standard high across the country.
'97, he was recognized with one of our employee recognition awards just for some extraordinary work that he and others had done working with the shrimp industry on a limited entry program. Went on to work on a similar limited entry program with finfish and crab. Was part of a natural leader class, has just continued his progression on up throughout the Agency. Served us admirably with the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Gulf Council as our representative where he's known to have to work through some pretty knotty issues as all of you know and Robin represents us with great thought, care, and distinction and we're awfully proud of him as a leader of our Coastal Fisheries Division and celebrating 25 years of service today, Robin Riechers. Robin.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We're going to honor another colleague who's been with us 25 years from our State Parks team, Paul Harris and Paul has got a great history with the Department. Another one of those second generation Parks and Wildlife employees. His dad was a Game Warden for the Agency and ultimately was the Director of Law Enforcement, I think, wasn't he; so set the bar high for Colonel Hunter, who's still climbing it to reach it and so -- just keep shooting, Colonel, would you.
So Paul took a little different tack with his dad. Started off there at Lake Bob Sandlin, where he started off as a Park Ranger. Then he got commissioned as a Park Peace Officer and so one of the proud members of our Park Police team which do such extraordinary work keeping our parks safe for all of our public that come there. Worked at Cooper Lake State Park, that South Sulphur Unit. Was the Unit Manager there for nine years and then in 2004, he transferred back to Lake Bob Sandlin where he got his start and was promoted to Superintendent there where he's just done an extraordinary job. And most recently, he's just moved over to one of our other just wonderful parks in East Texas at Tyler and so he's our new Superintendent at Tyler and awfully proud of Paul's career with this Agency, 25 years of service, Paul Harris. Paul.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Lana Marbach who, by the way, had her inaugural debut in front of the Commission yesterday presenting that Palmetto State Park deal, you'll hear from her today, is Paul's niece he just told me. So Paul's family is running the damn place, I want you to know; so, Paul, thank you for everything you're doing.
Our next colleague, Luke Thompson, been with us for 25 years. Luke has a long history in conservation, great interpreter, Austin Science and Nature Center, the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy. Came to work for us at the Guadalupe River State Park and was there for a number of years, I think five before coming to Austin headquarters where really he took over the team managing the state parks registration and system and Luke manages just a phenomenal team of employees that are part of our Call Center and so when people call in to make reservations in state parks, there's just this extraordinary dedicated group of colleagues that do everything they can to make sure that Texas families who want to come visit some of your state parks have an opportunity to do it, know what they're getting into. Very involved with the transformation into the new TxParks system and so we're celebrating Luke's 25 years of service. Luke, come forward.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: I think all of you are aware just what an extraordinarily talented stable of scientists that we have inside this Agency, and certainly Bill Karel with our Coastal Fisheries team is unquestionably one of those. Started off there at the Perry Bass Marine Fishery Station there in Palacios, one of our hatcheries and research facilities there along the coast.
Was quickly promoted up into our Genetics Research group, which he leads as a Research Biologist and has been involved in assessing stock structure and on a variety of different species from trout to Redfish to flounder to you name it. Recently, he's been very involved working with our Inland Fisheries team on looking at some Alligator gar related things and also assessing the success of our stocking efforts and transplant efforts and making sure that we're doing all we can with our hatchery facilities, making sure we're rearing the best fish that are capable of surviving out there in our bays and estuaries and he's just done a remarkable job. We're awfully proud of him for 20 years of service; so Bill Karel, Coastal Fisheries Biologist. Bill.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Twenty years ago I walked into this place as an intern just lost as a Christmas goose and the first person I met was Kim Ludeke and Kim was just starting work that day as the new head of the Department's Geographic Information System Lab and this is a state-of-the-art cutting edge GIS lab that's responsible for all these landscape scale analyses that our team here at Parks and Wildlife does.
He oversees really a very talented group of biologists and landscape ecologists and cartographers that are responsible for producing all of the wonderful maps and spatial planning tools. He's very proud of the team that he's built. Many of them have been recognized for a bunch of awards across the Agency, the State, and the Country. Last year, in fact, Amie Treuer-Kuehn who's part of GIS Lab was recognized as an Outstanding Woman in State Government. A rare honor. First time a woman from Parks and Wildlife had ever received that honor and that was in no small part due to Kim's leadership.
Kim has been a leader across the state in GIS technology and placing that lab where it can help facilitate our planning for land acquisition, for water related projects. Most recently has led an effort to map the vegetation across the entire state of Texas. It's been a five-year effort that he and his team have done. They've just done an extraordinary job. For a boy from Burkburnett, Texas, Kim's done pretty well, 20 years of service, Kim Ludeke. Kim.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: We talk a lot about the critical role that our Infrastructure team plays in terms of managing all of the capital facilities, the bonds, the capital construction and repair projects across the state and as y'all know a huge portfolio of projects that our planners and architects and design specialists and contract managers and construction supervisors and force account personnel are involved in and really do a masterful job of trying to, again, manage the literally thousands of facilities that we have across the system. But we've got to have people that can manage those contracts and making sure that things are moving and that we're interacting with all of our contractors in a seamless fashion and Nikki Rodriguez has just done a wonderful job with that.
She's been with us for 20 years. Started out as -- 1993 as an administrative assistant. In 1999, she was promoted to a Contract Specialist and has provided assistance through a lot of big projects that y'all are familiar with. Again, the World Birding Center, the Game Warden Training Center -- is that me or is that you, Boruff? Who is that? That's not me. Okay.
I didn't give my speech about putting it on vibrate. I thought, God, if I violated that, I'm really going to be in trouble. Thank God I had the performance review yesterday.
So, anyway, let's get back to Nikki. So Nikki Rodriguez really has been instrumental in helping these projects flow. Again, you name it -- Sea Center, Galveston Island Redevelopment, Indian Lodge, she's been on the frontline making sure that we're complying with all of the State procurement laws, which I can assure you are very, very complicated.
Last year she was honored as part of an Outstanding Team Award with the Infrastructure Division and is just representing us very, very well. Twenty years of service, Nikki Rodriguez. Nikki.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: For our Game Wardens, the end of August marks a big transition for them. They've spent literally countless hours over the summer patrolling and looking after our State's, you know, 200,000 miles of inland creeks and rivers and lakes and 4 million acres of bays and estuaries and you know what an extraordinary role and responsibility they have in terms of keeping those waterways safe for the public, helping ensure that they protect our fish and game in that area and our Wardens spend just hundreds of hours individually on the water during the summer months and so they run into a lot of issues, as you might imagine.
And so each year we are very privileged to have a Marine Officer of the Year that is recognized across the state. No surprise this year that it's Kevin Glass out of Waller County. Kevin lives on his beloved Katy Prairie west of Houston and so when he's not busy chasing poachers out there on the prairie, he's really become the go-to guy with respect to BWI issues throughout the waterways in and around the Houston area, which unfortunately is known for a lot of that.
Kevin very instrumental in terms of helping to develop and implement our Seated Field Sobriety Test. Training our Game Wardens throughout the district and the state on the important use of that tool to make sure, again, we're keeping those waterways safe for the boating and angling public that are out there enjoying themselves. He's been a trainer there at the Game Warden Training Center. Forged a very important partnership with the Harris County D.A. to help make sure that the Assistant D.A.s understood the techniques that Kevin and his team would be employing to make sure, again, that we're getting the bad actors off the lakes and rivers and keeping those safe for the public.
He's been a great leader. Constantly learning, constantly studying case law, investigative techniques, evidence collection, and then most importantly has done an extraordinary job helping to mentor and coach younger Wardens inside the district and the state on those tools and so as such, we're awfully proud to recognize Kevin Glass for the Texas Marine Officer of the Year Award. Kevin.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: It's now our privilege to recognize the Association of Midwest Fish and Game Law Enforcement Officers of the Year and again no surprise that Eddie Lear out of Houston County is the award winner this year. He actually just had that award bestowed upon him up in Traverse City, Michigan. Not a bad place to be I would say at this time of year, Eddie; so I know you enjoyed that.
Eddie's our Game Warden over in Houston County there in the Piney Woods. Those of you who know that country, know that there's plenty of business for a Game Warden and Eddie spends a lot of time there on the Neches and Trinity Rivers. Logs, again, hundreds of hours on those rivers. Made some extraordinary cases in the last couple of years, just catching boatloads of gillnetters that are trying to illegally harvest the state fish and state fish population.
I know you'll be surprised to hear that he's also caught no small number of poachers still using the old electroshocking there to shock-up fish and so Eddie is known for finding them and catching them, withstanding all kinds of climates and temperatures to stay out in the woods and on the water until he gets the folks and he's just been a great ambassador for this Agency and really represented us well over in the Piney Woods and we could not be more proud to recognize Eddie Lear with this honor. Eddie, please come forward. Eddie.
(Round of applause and photographs)
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, Commission, that concludes the awards. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right, we'll just take a short recess so those who wish to leave can leave.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right, we're going to go ahead and get started. First order of business is Action Item No. 1, approval of the agenda. I would like to announce that Action Item No. 12, land acquisition, Cochran County, Yoakum Dunes Preserve has been withdrawn from the agenda. Action Item No. 8, hunter education course requirements will be heard immediately after Item No. 2, operating and capital budget. Item No. 5, use of dogs to trail wounded deer will be heard immediately after the hunter education course requirements item. Is there a motion for approval of the revised agenda?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Falcon. Second by Commissioner Duggins. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.
And now we'll hear Action Item No. 2, operating and capital budget. Justin, are you -- there he is.
MR. HALVORSEN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good morning.
MR. HALVORSEN: Good morning, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning again, Commissioners. Once again for the record, my name is Justin Halvorsen. I'm the Budget Team Lead in AR and will be going over the financial overview for FY 2014. Now, yesterday I gave you a more detailed presentation. So this one really is kind of a summary of the discussions that we had yesterday.
So there's going to be six things that I'm going to be talking to you today. The first one is I'm going to walk you through how our budget process gets from the General Appropriations Act to the total budget that you'll be approving or that we'll be requesting your approval on. The second thing is the operating and capital budget summary. Third thing is I'll talk about the capital and conservation account, No. 5004, and the changes that have happened due to recent legislation. No. 4, we'll briefly talk about the FTEs. And five and six, I'll wrap up with the budget and investment policy, as well as talking about the state park list for performance measures.
Now, yesterday I talked a little bit about some of the changes and updated you on the things that happened during the Legislative session. So again, just very briefly, our LAR request for '14 and '15 when we started the 83rd Session was 507 million for the base. That's a biennial number. We had six exceptional items totaling 103 million. All six of those exceptional items were approved at least in part with a total of 78 million.
In addition to that, we received additional funding for the employee salary increase; $5 million for the helicopter; 2 million as pass-through to A&M for quail research; 700,000 for construction at Fort Boggy and Big Spring. In addition to that, we also got funding in FY 13 as a supplemental from House Bill 1025 and the total on that was 13 million.
All right, so let's start talking about the details of fiscal year 2014. The General Appropriations Act Article VI, which is natural resources, we received 323.7 million. Article IX gave us an additional 14.2 million. That consists mainly of two items, the employee salary increase as well as the new bonds that were a part of an exceptional item request. The GAA includes about $38 million of federal funds built into it. We added another 150,000. Similarly, the GAA includes approximately 4.9 million of appropriated receipts. We added an additional 740,000 and I kind of talked about some of the details of that yesterday. The fringe benefits and BRP adds another 41 million. So our total FY 2014 total budget is 379.89 million.
If we look at this by method of finance or fund type, I went into the details of this yesterday. I'm just going to summarize some of these for you. Let's go ahead and start out with the federal funds at the bottom of 44.3 million. That consists mainly of what we refer to as our five big grants. That's sport fish, there's about 18 million. Wildlife restoration at about 16 million. Boating safety at three and a half million. Trail grants at about 3 million, and the SWIG at about 2.5 million. The other -- again, moving counterclockwise, the other just to the right of the federal at 6.73 million mainly consists of appropriated receipts and contracts, plus the license plate account.
On the general revenue of 101 million, about 70 percent of that is in sporting goods sales tax. If we -- overall if we look at the budget, 70 percent of this Agency's funding comes from three sources and that's Fund 64, Fund 9, and General Revenue. That would be the 10.9 percent, the 33 percent, and the 26.8 percent.
All right, so let's talk about the operating and capital budget by object of expense. 148.84 million consists of salaries and other personnel costs. That's about 40 percent of our budget. Operating budget of 81.81, that consists of things like rent, travel, pens and paper, utilities. The utilities alone is 10 million. Grants includes items such as the pass-through for local parks to local communities, quail, and the GLO transfer. Debt service and fringe benefits are relatively self-explanatory. The capital budget at 74.8 million consists mainly of cars and trucks, boats, and the helicopter.
All right, so let's talk about capital budget and, again, I don't want you to confuse this $83 million figure here that you see with the 74 million. Kind of talked about this a little bit yesterday. The capital budget by category includes things that are not necessarily capitalized and the example I gave yesterday is if there was a minor repair project to fix a roof, then the shingles and the nails themselves are not capitalized in terms of the capital budget here; but in terms of a capital project, the minor repair project is capitalized, so they're included here. So the construction and major repairs, we've got an additional 15.7 million in new funding. That mainly consists of the 11 million in the bonds, plus the $4 million of additional Fund 9 construction, plus the 700,000 for construction at Fort Boggy and Big Spring that I just talked about.
The estimated UB from 2013 into 2014 is about 47.7 million. So we get to our total budget of 63 million. On the minor repairs, construction and minor repairs were at 3 million. Information Technology and data center is about 5.3 million. There's about a million dollar's worth of exceptional item funding that we got in that category. Transportation items includes about 1.8 million of exceptional item funding, as well as the $5 million for the helicopter.
Capital equipment, those are things like mowers and trimmers, we added an additional 600,000 tied to the exceptional item funding and the total there is 1.34 million. Mass release at about 700,000 is relatively unchanged.
All right, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Capital Account. I know this is a very confusing situation, so I'll start off by saying that I don't want you to confuse the conservation and capital account with any capital. At one time there was capital in this account, but there hasn't been any capital in there for a number of years. So TPWD Code requires that the Commission approves any projects funded from Account 5004.
Historically, this account consisted of allocations of sporting goods sales tax and the TPWD conservation accounts. I might -- by those accounts, I mean the four plate funds which are the Horned Toad, the Bluebonnet, the Deer, and the Bass plate. The sporting goods sales tax portion was cut by the 82nd Legislature and the 82nd Legislature also cut all of the fund balances. When I mean cut, I mean that starting in '12 and '13, we weren't able to access those fund balances. Those fund balances remain in those accounts. We just don't have access to them. So starting in the 82nd Legislature in 2012 and 2013, for those conservation accounts, we could spend any of the revenue that we received in 2012 and 2013; but all of the revenue as of the end of fiscal year 2011 was trapped.
The changes from HB 7 during this Legislative session, they moved all of the new revenue starting in 2014 into this new account called the License Plate Trust Fund. And again, I don't want you to get bogged down in the terminology here. It's referred to as a trust fund, but that's just the name of it. It's not a trust fund in the legal sense that you might think about it. So starting in September, all of the revenue for these plates are now going to be going into this new License Plate Trust Fund. The fund balance that remains in Account 5004 from those conservation plates basically from 2011, those will remain there and we can tap into them as soon as the Legislature gives us the authority to do so.
All right, let's briefly talk about the full-time equivalence. In 2013, our FTE cap was 3,006. We were able to grow that by 103.2 through the exceptional item process; so our total FTE cap is 3,109. Now the Agency does budget over the FTE cap because we know we can manage our FTEs down through the attrition process, through retirements and vacancies. We're pre-budgeting those FTEs at 49.6. That's about 1.6 percent over the cap. Generally, the Agency runs between 3 and 5 percent over; so we're actually being very conservative this year.
All right, let's briefly talk about the budget and investment policy. There are no changes from last year. Any budget adjustments over 250,000 for funds that are not federal or bond, require Commission approval, as well as any donations that are over $500. Funds are authorized for any use permitted by statute or by rule and that is in Exhibit D. Exhibit E, the investment policy, again, there's no change here either. The Public Funds Investment Act requires an investment policy and an annual review by the governing body of the state agency depositing and investing funds outside of the Treasury.
This does not apply to this Agency because right now all of our funds are inside the Treasury. However, the Executive Director will identify and appoint an investment officer in the event that TPWD funds are ever deposited outside of the Treasury.
And finally, we get to the state park listing. Commission -- Commission approval is required for the park list at the start of each biennium. During the biennium, we'll do additions or subtractions and then during the start of the next biennium we'll come back and have you guys approve another list. In 2012, you approved 95 state parks. Since that time we've added two, the Palo Pinto and the Kronkosky, and we've also reduced it by two, Lake Texana and the Parrie Haynes; so we're back at 95.
Now before I read this motion, I'll stop here to see if you guys have any questions. Okay, then I'll go ahead and read this recommendation. The Executive Director is authorized to expend funds to operate the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in accordance with the proposed FY 2014 operating and capital budget, Exhibits A and B, and approves expenditures of FY 2014 capital -- excuse me, FY 2014 Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Capital Account funds, including additional funds realized in FY 2014 for the individual projects listed. That would be Exhibit C. The Commission also approves the budget policy, Exhibit D, and the investment policy, Exhibit E. The Commission authorizes the Department to use the listing of state parks, Exhibit F, as the basis for calculating the performance measures, the number of state parks in operation. The Department is authorized to adjust the listing as necessary to ensure that accuracy and measure reporting during 2014-2015 biennium in accordance with the procedures set forth in Exhibit F. And that concludes my presentation.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are there any more comments from staff? Any questions or comments by the Commission? Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Morian. Second by Commissioner Lee. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Hearing no opposition, the motion carries. Thank you, Justin.
MR. HALVORSEN: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Action Item No. 8, hunter education course requirements, please Nancy Herron and Robert Ramirez come forward.
MS. HERRON: Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Nancy Herron. I'm the Outreach and Education Director and I have with me this morning Robert Ramirez, our Hunter Education Manager. We're here this morning to request adoption of proposed changes to hunter education.
By statute and by the Texas Administrative Code, hunter education focuses on the commandments of firearm safety, a basic understanding of firearm laws, hunting laws and regulations, how wildlife management drives those laws, and responsible actions while hunting. Basically, we want hunters to ask themselves is it safe, is it legal, is it ethical.
This slide provides a graph that shows the effect of hunter education over the years. You'll see in blue the number of students that we've certified and last year, I'm pleased to say that we had a record number of students, 45,000 certified in hunter education. In orange you'll see the corresponding decline in hunting accidents. We're now down to less than three per 100,000 participants. This is really thanks to the work of staff, of Game Wardens, and literally thousands -- over 2,000 volunteers who teach our courses every year.
Hunter education works and with that, we want more people to take hunter education and so we're pleased to propose additional ways that people can take hunter education that are an expansion, that are flexible, and convenient options. We were very careful in this approach to what expansions we would make. We've talked to our instructors, went through multiple avenues including conference -- open-line conference calls that we held throughout the month of July. We held seven calls where we talked with the instructors on clarifying the proposed changes. Also, listened to their concerns. We had a call especially for Game Wardens, who are also instructors.
We conducted 16 pilots across the state to test out how long it takes to teach these basic core curriculum concepts. Robert will go into a little more detail on that. So we basically did our due diligence to come to you with the best information we could to help inform your decision today and with that, I'd like to turn it over to Robert.
MR. RAMIREZ: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Robert Ramirez, Hunter Education Manager. This slide illustrates the options that are available currently with a two-day classroom of ten hours with a passing score of 70 percent at a cost of $15 for the citizens. There's a combination online home study and field day with a passing score of 80 points, also $15. The curriculum is free and available on our Parks and Wildlife website, as well as the IHA website, English and Spanish.
There is vendors who provide additional content with more interactive videos and interaction with firearm actions at an additional cost if the citizen chooses that option and we still offer the one-time deferral for those who want to try hunting before they, you know, make the investment to go ahead and take hunter education.
The proposed changes include the one-day classroom course of a maximum five hours; a combination online instruction and field day, no less than four with no more than five hours of instruction; and then the online -- recognition of the online only for those 16 years of age and older and a passing score for all options at 75 percent.
I wanted to bring your attention to the fee structures. Since we last convened in May, we needed to look at the fee structure as it was published in the Texas Register. It clarifies the recognition of various prices from online providers and so we wanted to bring that to your attention.
We did, as Nancy mentioned, do our due diligence to see what the curriculum, the basic core concepts in that curriculum and how that time would look in these pilot studies. We conducted 16 pilot courses, 324 students with an age range from 9 to 59. As you can see, they were held statewide to include volunteers, Law Enforcement, Game Wardens, as well as Hunter Education staff and that average time for that core curriculum come in at 5.6 hours.
MS. HERRON: We also took public comment. We had 113 comments come in with 39 in agreement with the proposed changes and 74 disagreed. Those who disagreed came in for multiple purposes, multiple reasons. Those who were for the changes were very pleased at a one going from a two- to a one-day option and thought there would be some good use of technology.
Those who were opposed cited safety concerns and 47 were concerned about online only instruction, 37 were concerned with the short length of time and were hoping for something closer to six to eight hours. There were some -- two concerns about the -- lowering the passing score and two about the fee that online vendors could set their own fee.
With the results of the pilots and with taking into consideration the comments and the conversations that we've had with our instructors, we recommend two modifications to the proposals that were in the Texas Register. The first one is a change in Rule 51.80 where we would have the instruct -- classroom instruction not to exceed six rather than five hours. Excuse me. This takes into account that the pilot -- pilot courses were averaging 5.6 hours. These were taught by some of our most experienced instructors.
This allows other instructors to have a little more leeway for larger class sizes. Also, for the hands on demonstrations, skills demonstrations that we like to do and with larger classes that takes a little more time. It also, without setting a minimum, allows smaller classes to occur in a shorter period of time as long as they cover the material.
The second change we would propose for Rule 53.50 and that is that the fee for online vendors be set by the online provider; however, not to exceed an amount established by the Executive Director. And with that, we would like to make a recommendation that you adopt the amendments -- pardon me. Yes.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Dan, I would like to make a comment.
MS. HERRON: Yes, sorry.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: In our public meetings yesterday, it was brought to the attention that our regulations recognize 17 as -- for hunting, fishing licenses as being an adult. I would like to propose that we change the 16 for online hunters education to 17, move it back one year so 17 and up are eligible for online and below that, you have to take the class. And I'd like discussion by any of the Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, why don't we why -- why don't we hear from those who are signed up to speak. Robert and Nancy, thank you for your help on this and I just want to go ahead and hear from them; but -- and then we can discuss it as a Commission.
First up is Duke Walton.
MR. WALTON: Thank you very much. My name's Duke Walton and I have -- handing out a little synopsis of information, my background. I'm here representing the Texas Hunter Ed. Instructors Association and as such, I'm President Emeritus. And you have several other letters of interest that's been given to you.
At this time, gentlemen of the Commission, I was at your last meeting and it was stated that these changes are to make it easier for people to take hunter education. As you see from the my information sheet that's been handed out to you, I've taught hunter ed. for over 25 years. At that meeting it was stated that one of you had taken the hunter ed. class and you could have pretty much just taken a class -- I mean the test and passed it.
May I suggest that you're not taking into consideration that the class you took was originally designed for inexperienced 12-year-old to 15-year-old youngsters. As an experienced adult hunter, most of what is needed in hunter education class is an update of safe practices and a confirmation of what you already know to be safe, for you already know your firearm and hunting safety. Much what should be covered in any hunter ed. class is for novice young hunters to be safe and responsible with firearm handling.
The age for certification has been lowered to nine years olds As previously stated, the current curriculum is designed for a 12-year-old reading level. It is no secret that most nine-year-olds don't know or understand the many words in the student manual and they cannot take the test without asking questions as to what the words mean, thus it takes them much longer to read and take the test.
Another observation, the five-hour maximum course is not realistic. I just run a class on August the 10th and 11th with 200 students and ten instructors. It was a 10-hour, two-day class; but it could have been done cut to a one-day, 9-hour class, but in no way could it have been done any shorter than that amount of time for that many students. We could reduce the time by limiting the number of students in each class. This would enable us to finish the class in a shorter amount of time. But with more students looking for the same number of classes, it would more than likely make it harder for people to get into a class.
I am aware that today's society wants instant everything and at no cost to them in the way of learning what they need to know in today's marketplace, where both parents work or a single parent home. Kids don't have any training in firearm safety. When hunter education started in 1966, there were 28 fatalities and in 2011, there were only two. From 1966 through '87, Texas had 425 deaths and from 1988 through 2011 under the mandatory hunter education program we have now, there were 29 total; but with about a 73 percent improvement. Please don't take us back to where we started with days of increased fatalities and accidents in the field. We used to teach a one-day, 8-hour class and with a few changes we can do it again without losing instructional quality and attention to safety that has made our Texas hunter ed. program the best in the nation.
Thank you very much. One thing I would like to address real quick, Commissioner Hughes brought up the fact that he would like to raise it to 17. I also agree with that and another reason is that now somebody that's under 17, their parent has to come sign for them to take the course and so if you raise it from 16 to 17, that would alleviate that problem. I thank you very much, and I appreciate your consideration.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
Next up, we'll hear from Steve Russell. Good morning.
MR. RUSSELL: Thank you. Director Smith, Commissioners, Mr. Chairman, I'm honored -- just totally honored to be before you. I grew up in Northeast Texas. Still there. I'm Steve Russell. My dad thought the best way to raise an only son was behind a brace of bird dogs when there was still Bobwhites in the Piney Woods and in a little 14-foot bass boat with a nine-and-a-half Evinrude on the back. I never objected too strongly and I appreciate the stewardship over what you and I both believe is truly God's country.
I am here though today to oppose simply one thing. I approve -- I totally agree with the other things you're doing, but I do not like the online only proposal that you have for a couple of reasons I'll try to enumerate for you. First of all -- and this is a result of my teaching in the last two years over 950 participants in hunter education each year, so I've been told I'm one of the most two or three active educators in the state. I've been doing this for about seven years and so I speak from experience, not only my family heritage and legacy, but also from hunter education.
I think first of all it just simply devalues the personal mentoring. There are -- I think there will be a consensus in this room that you don't learn to ride a bicycle from a seminar. Ben Franklin said in his autobiography he learned to swim from reading in a book. I've never met another person besides Ben Franklin who would admit that. We just think some things are better mentored than they are instructed online or in books or in seminars.
The online only option troubles me greatly for that reason. Secondly, I think it substantially compromises safety. This worries me. As Duke expressed, I'm also on the Board of Directors of the Texas Hunter Education Instructors Association and I think to a person our instructors have been concerned about safety and I'm going to be very honest and very blunt with you. If these fatalities increase and injuries increase, there's not going to be any blood or hands to put the spilled blood on but yours and I'd hate to think that a future Commission would have to reverse the decision with the unfortunate wisdom of hindsight.
We are very concerned of the jeopardy of safety. Another thing here and I want to say right at the outset that we can read every management book out there on the shelf and it talks about bottoms up management, but this is coming from the top down. I assure you this did not originate among instructors who stand out there and watch people try to put a shotgun shell into a firearm backwards and have no idea where the safety is located and how to operate the actions. We think this again can't be done online.
I'm very concerned as well that this masks a number of failures about the ability to propagate instructors on the part of the Department. And when I say failures, I'm not making an accusation. I'm simply stating it's something that we haven't done well and we need to do better. And this -- at this -- when I wrote these comments a week ago, there were only six hunter education instructor classes scheduled in the state. Four in Houston, one in College Station, and -- four in College Station, one in Houston, and one in Corpus Christi. That doesn't exactly cover the calls I'm receiving from the Permian Basin asking when I'm going to come out from Tyler and teach a course at Midland-Odessa.
So I don't think we've done a good job of propagating the instructors. We haven't propagated area chiefs. My applications have been on somebody's desk for over six months and area chiefs are our volunteers who actually propagate, instruct, and recruit new instructors. I'm not sure that our communications are the best they could be. Also, we have a lack of support and a terrible attrition rate.
And finally, this hasn't anything to do really with the Department; but I don't think we've used the existing outlets. I just wonder in the Permian Basin are there not Game Wardens? Are there not state parks? Are there not other Department employees who could be teaching hunter education? Why am I receiving calls? Have we used our junior colleges? Have we used our educational service centers? Have we used our public schools and others? If you -- Mr. Chairman, my red light is on. I've got just a few brief comments.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please, please.
MR. RUSSELL: Thank you so much. Just briefly I would end by saying this. Some people have tried to bring a Second Amendment right discussion into this. I don't think it's relevant. This is to raise emotions. To be honest, we're talking about being responsible here. Not rights. We think responsibility again is better mentored.
Also, I get a number of calls each year from convicted felons. They can't come to a course because we have firearms present. Well, this is going to make, if it's online only, greater accessible to convicted felons. Something to think about. Also, we have to bring up the idea of least resistance. I'll just have to tell you, I don't know how many spouses, secretaries, children, and parents are going to work an online only course for somebody else and I'm not sure you will be able to police that in a way that you think you might.
Last of all, we've got a number of proposals and we're excited about some of them. I tend to be a progressive, but I know better than to try to progress all at once. We're going to have online registration, we're going to have online only courses, we're going to have our hunter education instructors taking people hunting. It just may be too much too fast and I would just simply end again by asking you seriously reconsider the online only course and not approve that until we've had a little more facts come in. And once again, thank you for your stewardship over this state.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you for your comments. Appreciate it.
Next up is Steve Hall.
MR. HALL: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Carter, my name is Steve Hall and I come before you with a new hat to play. I'm the new Executive Director of the International Hunter Education Association. Last time I was here, I was with the Texas State Rifle Association. I often say that Kirby Brown's my hero. He retired and went to TWA and then to D.U. and I retired and went to TSRA and now I'm with -- I'm back home with the International Hunter Education Association. That's an organization I've been involved with for over 28 years.
I'm involved with it for life. The reason is and you heard yesterday from Pittman that he had a hunting accident, I'm involved for life for two reasons. I had a -- I shot myself when I was seven, and I was raised catholic. I was also raised with five older brothers teaching me the ways about hunter safety. That's probably why I shot myself. However, I'm in it for life. I'm in it for life as not only Catholic, it's my penance for life.
So, anyway, as a hunter, as a former employee of this Agency, and as the new Executive Director and once again as a volunteer of this Agency, I did perform three of those pilot -- or two of the pilot courses that they talked about and so I'm dedicated to it at the volunteer level at the grassroots, but also as an administrator over 750,000 graduates each year, 60,000 instructors, and 50 state members including Texas. I'm a little biased, of course, because I think Texas brings the model to the rest of the nation and as you decide things, so does the rest of the nation.
For that reason, I'm here to support everything that this staff does. I'm extremely -- I've known Nancy and Robert, people like Lee Smith, Kathy Powell, they -- you have wonderful staff. They do a bang-up job and they'll continue to do a bang-up job, even through transitions like this. But it is the volunteer that obviously carried the ball for us for many years. I certainly -- I feel their angst. Steve Russell said it pretty well. There's angst out there because, you know, there's a sense of replacement. I don't feel that at all. I just think that we have to evolve and so my support will be towards staff and towards this process of evolving.
You're dealing with customer convenience, which is customer service and I applaud you for that. That's what this is all about. On the other hand, you have customer experience and Steve Russell probably put it best. The customer experience is all about experiential education, effectiveness of learning, and the volunteer advocacy that this program has created for years and you can see the success of it.
So with that angst, you know, we have to deal with that and I think there's good solutions to deal with that angst. There's advanced hunter education, there's the home mentor aspect, and there's the Texas Youth Hunting Program. Great solutions. You already have them in place. Texas has been proactive in that arena. So where do you think we get the hunt masters for Texas Youth Hunting Program? From -- a lot of them from hunter education instructors. So there's roles to play. IGA is here to support you in those roles. I will definitely work day to day with Nancy and Robert and do all we can at the national level to support this program that, of course, that I love with all my heart and I would be happy to answer any questions on the national level or on behalf of hunter education.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Steve, thank you. Any questions for Steve? Appreciate it.
MR. HALL: All right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much. Good to see you.
MR. HALL: You bet.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Next up is Ida Ellison.
MS. ELLISON: Hello, Commissioners. I'm a certified bow hunting instructor for the Parks and Wildlife and I do agree that we need to keep our classrooms up to ten hours. I have instructed classes in Austin, Georgetown, and Bastrop and there's no way we can cut down on our hours without cutting down on the safety issues that need to be addressed.
I don't -- rifles or bows to me are about the same because both of them are lethal weapons and I do believe that we need to concentrate on the safety issues. My father gave me a rifle to shoot at nine years of age trying to shoot a deer. The rifle literally just knocked me over and I do believe that we need to keep our age minimum to 12 years. There's no way a nine-year-old can shoot a 40-pound bow or hold a rifle safely to kill a deer humanely.
I have seen through the bow hunting experiences, you do need to have live firing training. No matter if you are from the military to a child, we all need hands on experience when you're dealing with weapons. I have personally have seen a man blinded by dropping a pistol. Of course, it was an accident; but it just shows how deadly this type of hunting is and I do believe, too, that we need to bring back bow hunting instructions back to the state of Texas.
We do need to bring back draw weight minimum back to 40. I do -- I can and do shoot a 40-pound bow; but I have been able to shoot up to 50 pounds, which is my maximum draw weight and I do believe we do need to reconsider bringing back bow weight and bow hunting education to the state. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
We'll now hear from Justin Dreibelbis, I believe.
MR. DREIBELBIS: That's right on.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Got lucky.
MR. DREIBELBIS: You can imagine I get some pretty good ones. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Justin Dreibelbis. I'm the Hunting Heritage Program Director for Texas Wildlife Association. Today I represent TWA and the 6,500 hunters and landowners that make up our membership statewide.
As you can imagine, hunting is extremely important to Texas Wildlife Association and I can assure you that this hunter education topic has bounced around through our committee process for the last few months and actually started with our Texas Youth Hunting Program Area Coordinators and went up through the TYHP Advisory Committee as well.
Our final written comments, which you have in front of you, were approved last week by our Executive Committee. We would like to first start by commended the Department for looking for new ways to make sure that time is not a barrier to safe, educated hunters getting in the field to enjoy hunting with their friends and family. We are in favor of the -- we are in favor of the proposed changes to the hunter education rules, including the online option, and believe that these changes will create the flexibility necessary to make hunter -- to make hunting more accessible to the general public and ultimately put more safe hunters in the field.
In addition, we feel the flexibility will create new opportunities for Texas hunters to participate in our Texas Wildlife Association and Parks and Wildlife Department shared hunting heritage programs, the Texas Youth Hunting Program, and the Texas Big Game Awards. Before yesterday's meeting, we had two concerns that we wanted to bring forward to you with these proposed rules.
First, we wanted to recommend that more time be added to the maximum instruction time for the person -- for the in-person course to make sure that the 35 core objectives could be met effectively. I would like to thank you very much for addressing that issue yesterday and adding the extra hour of instruction time. We feel that the new six hours of instruction time in the proposed rules will be sufficient to complete the course. And like I said, we do have several experienced hunt masters that are hunter education instructors and they're happy with the extra hour.
Our second recommendation has to do with the minimum scoring requirement for the online course. Since there will not be hands on experience associated with this option, we would recommend that the current minimum score of 80 percent for the online home study course be used across the board instead of lowering it to 75 percent. This will achieve the consistency that you're looking for in the scoring system and will better prove an understanding of the material before these new hunters hit the field.
So in closing, I'd just like to again express our support of these proposed changes and thank this Commission for their leadership in looking for new ways to remove barriers from safe hunting. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Any other -- any discussion by the Commission? Any further thoughts? I have a question, but I want to hear from the rest of Commission first.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: I have a question, also; but go ahead.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Falcon, go ahead.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Here you go. Mr. Smith, this question is for you. In the -- in the hunter education program, do we have a mechanism by which a student is not passed regardless of whether they take the test and pass it or not or is that the only -- is that the only way that a student can pass -- or not pass, but look at it from the negative, fail the course? If an instructor sees that somebody is just not capable, can they say you're not ready yet, you're going to have to retake or what mechanism do we use under those circumstances?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Or is it just the passing grade is what --
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Or if it's just a passing grade, yes.
MR. RAMIREZ: We do have an evaluation by our instructors based on attitude. So if, for instance, if a student comes and exhibits unsafe behavior while out on the skills trail, our instructors ask them to comply with all that they're being taught during that skills exercise and if we do not get that compliance at that point, they can fail the student based on their attitude during that skill.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: And a follow-up question would be is there a mechanism right now that if a student doesn't pass, that they're given an opportunity for additional hours or additional training?
MR. RAMIREZ: Yes, we do have instances where if there is a learning impairment, reading comprehension, we do have our instructors read the test to them and at that point, they're given an opportunity to pass the course.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: I'm sorry about all the questions, but this is important because I really appreciated the comments that were made by the people that made comments. If somebody takes the online course and I understand all those concerns and I think they're very valid concerns, is there any alternative thought on how we could approve somebody or pass somebody in the course by some other mechanism other than just taking a test where you never see a student, you don't know if they're capable of the hands on requirements to be a safe hunter?
MR. RAMIREZ: Well, what -- you know, what we're proposing again is customer service where the end user would actually make the decision on which applies to them. Currently, we do have states that offer online certification. The longest being Indiana, which they've done it for six years. Even with that, less than 10 percent actually use the online option. They still prefer the in-person classroom option.
But back to your question, you know, we have the online home study, those who want to study online and then come to the field day. Again, we haven't had the option of the complete online certification up to this point; so we can -- we can work with the vendors to gear the questions towards ethics and gun handling and firearm safety with interaction amongst the curriculum where they can actually point and click on the actions to see the animations, as well as videos that are embedded into that curriculum. But, you know, currently that's what the -- those contemporary deliveries of hunter education is out there right now currently.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Thank you, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks. Robert, do we have any -- without getting too detailed on the data side, do you -- can you give us a sense of currently what percentage by age category are trained with the hybrid mechanism? You know, online and field versus -- versus classroom?
MR. RAMIREZ: We have 35 percent that use that online field day option. Don't know the ages as they break down who use that. Typically what we do see is those who -- and we recommend those who are 12 years of age and older, whether they're new to hunting or whether they have a mentor, we obviously recognize the -- you know, having a mentor greatly solidifies the concepts that they're being taught in hunter education and so with that online option, we do recommend 12 years of age who have a mentor to go along with the home study and then come to the field day, which is live fire, skills trail, ethics, and game laws.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And is that choice -- is the training, you know, approach, is that -- has that increased? Is that increasing?
MR. RAMIREZ: It's a very popular option. Yes, it has increased. As a matter of fact, you know, we have calls daily that ask when are there more skills field days that are available and so obviously we're limited on the facilities that can offer a live fire option and so that is an increase of delivery that's being requested.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Do you feel that some of the comments that were made about, you know, how we're -- how we're -- sometimes it's hard to access the -- you know, the training across, you know, different parts of the state and so forth. Do you -- can you get us some information on that so we can kind of look at the efficiency of how we're offering that option as a training mechanism across the state and how we could potentially, you know, improve that --
MR. RAMIREZ: Sure.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- make it more efficient?
MR. RAMIREZ: You know, as it was stated, the majority of the work that's being done are volunteers. Well, those volunteers are avid outdoorsmen and women and so as those seasons become open, obviously their volunteer time is -- you know, they transition to recreational time at that point and so we do see that bottleneck as those seasons approach, as they get closer. And so having an option, you know, for the online instruction would allow somebody to access that material and then take the course based on their schedule and their lifestyle.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And how many other states that we're aware of that we sort of benchmark are offering online only options and at what age do they operate?
MR. RAMIREZ: We have Indiana that has been doing it six years. Their age is 12 years of age. We have Oklahoma, it's 10 years of age. Alabama will start September 1 at 10 years of age. Montana has an option that recognizes those that are based on -- I believe it's 24 years. It's based on a born on date where they can access the online curriculum only. Florida does recognize a CHL or NRA certification for those who take the online. If they can prove that certification, they'll be issued a hunter education card. And so currently those are the ones that have that in place.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great, thank you.
COMMISSIONER JONES: So --
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Again, I am -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
COMMISSIONER JONES: No, go ahead because I'm -- I was just going to make a -- following up on Dr. Falcon's statement. So we're balancing educating more students; but at perhaps some risk of some students not getting the hands on, eyeballs on, or whatever you want to call it instruction that we require now to round it out or to finish it out. So the upside is we get more people educated. Downside may be some of those people may not get the hands on instruction that we -- that might be desired.
MR. RAMIREZ: Well, currently the statistics show that the majority of accidents are those who have never had hunter education of any type and so when we enter that data and we look at that data, those who have had hunter education, they typically year-to-year it's in the single digits when you look at those who have actually taken hunter education. So the majority have no exposure of hunter education at all.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: I'm -- I've had a chance to think about this a little bit last night and I'm not as much concerned about the shortened time period for teaching as I'm concerned about the online. A friend of mine who is a General said that probably the greatest threat to the American soldier now is the battle fields being controlled by somebody at the Pentagon and not smelling what battle is like and seeing blood and, you know, when you have -- when you're learning on a computer on something that involves shooting and the killing of something, I'm just wondering if we're ready to move into that arena. Just having them learn on a computer screen and not actually feel and see what the impact of what a weapon can do.
I'm just -- I guess that's my major concern. And then again, you know, somebody stated it very correctly. The last thing that we want is to have to come back and redo this, redo this decision. This is a very important decision for us, and we want to make sure that we make the correct one.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Some observations from my perspective are that Nancy and Robert and others here have spent a great deal of time over the last year ever since this issue was raised last fall to identify the core items that need to be addressed to comply with the fundamental hunter education course and I believe that they are not -- that they have done a great job and that they have not omitted something that is fundamental or core and I also think that they've been very wise in taking what they've identified as core curriculum and then testing it in the actual classroom with students and instructors and those pilots, if you will, as Robert has said have shown that the core items -- and there are three -- firearm safety, knowledge of hunting laws, and ethics -- can be covered in an average of five and a half hours. So I'm not concerned about the six-hour time limitation.
I think that's more than enough to cover the core items and we also don't want to lose sight of the fact that fundamentally, parenting has to play a role here and there's no substitute for good parenting and a parent's got the obligation to decide whether or not his or her child is sufficiently prepared to possess and handle a firearm and no classroom can substitute for good parenting. So, and we've got a number of people who have spoken up in support of this, including our esteemed friends at TWA and, of course, Steve Hall, nobody knows more about this area than Steve Hall.
So I strongly support this item. I do think that the online option should be permitted. It's worked in other states and as Robert said, it's not -- the parenting has got to still -- still has to play the key role here. But the online option has not shown to increase accidents in other states and I think, Robert, the trend is, if I'm not mistaken, that other states are moving to offering an online option. That's obviously occurring because you mentioned two that are just getting ready to offer it.
So I think it's -- it should be included in this proposal. I do think we ought to watch this very closely going forward, and we may need to adjust it one way or the other. I hope that we can continue to become more efficient because we are in a customer service business and we don't want this to be a barrier not just to youth, but I heard from a number of outfitters in this state who are in the business of offering hunts who say they can't get out-of-state adults to come in here because no out-of-state hunter is going to take a two-day course. And we don't want that, or I don't think we should want that.
And then on this point of whether or not it should be 16 or 17, TWA endorses it being 16. You can drive a car in this state at 16. I think that a 16-year-old is perfectly capable of handling this and I respect Dan Allen's viewpoint, but I -- and I see -- I think it's more of a consistency concern on his part. I'll let him speak for himself. But I hope we'll stick with the 16.
As far as the passing score goes, I think we ought to be consistent there and if it should be 80 instead of 75, let's make it 80 across the board. I'm not -- don't feel strongly about that, but I think this is a very positive step and I want to -- I just want to elaborate that it may not be apparent just how much time Nancy and Robert and others have spent analyzing this and working with hunter ed. instructors and I -- and we appreciate so much the efforts of the hunter ed. instructors.
You're invaluable to our team, and I know you feel sincerely about this. We are not unmindful of that at all, but I think this is an appropriate change and it's good for our state and it's going to be -- I think it will work out just fine. So I would move approval of the staff's recommendation.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just an observation. I understand Tony's concern and everything about being removed from the deal, but I'll -- I'm the one that said I could have passed the course without having ever sat in 18 hours and wasted 18 hours of my life. I did say that and it's accurate and probably is accurate that somebody said, yes, but I was already an experienced hunter and that's an accurate statement.
Just an observation. When I did take that course, I never had a gun in my hands. I keep hearing over and over people talking about this deal about they're not old enough, they don't -- I never had a gun in my hand and there was -- there was -- well, I was by far the oldest person in there. I was 40 something, I guess. Everybody else was 18 or under. And there was not a gun in the room.
So I don't follow the argument that you don't have the gun in the training deal, I've never seen anybody that had a gun in there. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see it; so, you know, I'm just making an observation, a personal one, that I don't think that it's relevant when people want to talk about the gun, you know, that you're not physically loading it, you're not putting a shotgun shell in backwards. I never saw a gun in the training room for two days, for 18 hours; so I'll just leave it at that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any other discussion or comments? Commissioner Hughes.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I would like to come back to the 17-year-old again. I mean, yes, it's -- part of it is consistency, but also I very much like Tony am -- I think the online is a great idea, but I want to see as many kids in the classroom as we can. And at a younger age, I would like to see all these kids in the classroom.
I look at the online to accommodate somebody like me. I'm going to go to Colorado. I've never taken hunter safety and, you know, that's -- that will be -- I look at it for ease for older people and like to see as many youth as we can actually go to a classroom and have hands on. I'm all for the proposal. That's the only change -- that's the change I would like to see. Add one more year to try to get a few more people into the classroom and not take it online and it also does fit with our current regulations.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Morian.
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: No, I just want to second what Dr. Falcon and Dan Allen have said. I don't see any harm in going to 17. I'm still uncomfortable with a total online program, but I'm prepared to go forward with it; but I do see merit in moving the age up to 17. That's my comment.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Any problem on this?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, I've said --
MR. WALTON: Excuse me, Mr. Smith. Is it possible for me to readdress for just a moment or two?
MR. SMITH: If the Chairman will invite you forward, that will be up to the Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure, please.
MR. WALTON: Thank you very much, sir. One thing I would like to comment on. Being as we're lowering the points that we're going to be teaching to the curriculum of core items, we can also reduce the amount of stuff that's actually given in the online class. Right now, they get six hours credit and they come to the field day for four hours. We could still do an online class, but we have a deferral program right now to where they can pay for their deferral and they have to hunt with somebody for the year; but next year, they would have to come take the class, regardless of how they take it.
We could give them an online class, and then it would only be good for one year. They would still have to come back and re-take that test and the reason we lowered it from 12 to 9 because on the Texas Youth Hunt Program, kids were having to take the hunter ed. course at 9, 10, 11 years old and then after they turned 12, they would have take the class again. But if we could incorporate even if it -- the online class is a little bit less, still covering the core items and still have a field day.
Now, it is a requirement on home study that they must have live fire and so -- and I don't know who you took a class from, but 90 percent of my classes is not only classroom time, I honestly believe -- and like I say, you've seen in my resume that I've been doing it for over 25 years -- kids learn more by actually doing than what they learn by somebody standing at a podium telling them what's right and what's wrong, tell them this is a firearm.
I put a firearm in every one of them's hand and so you're more than welcome to come to one of my classes any time you want. Any of you are. But that being said, we can consider -- we get the best of both worlds. They can take an online class that's a little bit less, but they still come to a field day. They may not have to come to a field day right now. They can take the online class and still be mentored with somebody for one year. Then after that, then they have to come back to a -- not only the field day -- I mean not only the online class, but they could come in for just the field day testing. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much. Appreciate your comments. Commissioner Lee.
MR. RUSSELL: Could I very briefly make two statements?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Very briefly, please.
MR. RUSSELL: Very quick and just to clarify that for you, Commissioner Scott. If you teach the online plus field day, live fire is mandatory. If you teach all live classroom, it is not. So you went to all live one. Secondly, you mentioned the idea of parenting. I want you men to know 950 plus people a year last two years, my average age is about 27. I have a number of people going out of state who come in for the first time. I'm basically getting people who are coming because they've been getting away with it for several years and it's finally worked on them enough they know they need to come in there.
They're often college students who meet together and hunt with their friends and a parent is totally out of the picture. My classes are not made up of adolescents and youth by any stretch of your imagination.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER LEE: Mr. Chairman, I would just say very briefly, I was -- I'm kind of new to this discussion, but I'm persuaded by Dr. Falcon's and Mr. Morian's and Dan Allen's comments about if there's any way to on one side to provide access to those who don't have access, which Mr. Duggins has mentioned, and kind of evolving here that some safety is better than no safety. But at the same time, I'm very concerned about the -- just the online -- 100 percent online aspect of it and, you know, when this comes up, I thought the motion to raise the limit to 17 made sense to me as a compromise.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think Commissioner Jones made a comment yesterday that's -- that I think would be helpful if we could better understand the interactive nature of the online solution. So I think, Robert, if we can get -- not today, but if you guys can compile that for us so that we can have a little bit of that experience of going through the process maybe without --
MR. RAMIREZ: And I have contacted them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: -- going through the whole process.
MR. RAMIREZ: Yeah, I've actually contacted them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. RAMIREZ: And can have access to that --
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think that will be very helpful to the Commission to understand and see how -- you know, how interactive the learning is and how those tools are and so we look forward to that.
Do we have an amended motion or a motion as proposed?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I still think that the -- it should be 16. That's just my view; but out of respect for my colleagues, I'll amend the motion to 17.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So that's a motion for approval as amended to 17. Second by Commissioner Morian. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you all very much. Appreciate all the work on this.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Just as a -- if I might just make a quick comment. For those in the public who believe that we don't have disagreements about some of the policy issues and some of the things that we decide, you've just seen that sometimes we do and that's good and it's healthy. We're all respectful of each other. But I want y'all to make -- I guess this is just for the public. We don't rubber stamp any particular policy or decision. We think about them and we sometimes change our minds and sometimes we change our views based on what fellow Commissioners have to say about it and the perspective they bring to the table and that makes serving on this Commission, quite frankly, a treat.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Thanks for those comments.
Item No. 5 is the use of dogs to trail wounded deer, recommended adoption of proposed changes, Mr. Scott Vaca.
MR. VACA: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. For the record, my name is Scott Vaca. I'm the Wildlife Law Administrator for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here this morning to present proposed changes to the regulations concerning the use of dogs to trail wounded deer.
Yesterday, I went through a background in a little more detail. I'll abbreviate that today. The rules regarding the use of dogs to trail wounded deer were originally adopted in 1990 in 34 counties. Since that time on two occasions, counties have been removed from the list when hunting deer with dogs was considered nonexistent in those counties.
So the current regulations are that it is lawful to use not more than two dogs to trail a wounded deer in all counties except the 22 East Texas counties highlighted on this slide in front of you. In addition, it is unlawful to be on another person's property while in possession of a shotgun and buckshot or slugs in these East Texas counties. It is unlawful to use dogs to hunt, pursue, or take deer in all Texas counties.
The proposed changes would remove the prohibition on using dogs to trail a wounded deer in 12 additional East Texas counties. The prohibition would remain in effect in the 10 East Texas counties highlighted on this slide. The prohibition on possessing a shotgun and buckshot or slugs would also remain in effect in these 10 East Texas counties.
As I mentioned yesterday, the public comment has come in in large numbers. You can see from this slide about two to one oppose the proposed regulations. But when you break out the reasons for opposition, the vast majority do not understand what the proposed regulation change is actually accomplishing and quite a few cited animal welfare concerns, such as cruelty to the deer or, you know, using terms such as brutal, things of that nature.
I'm not going to read through these. They're the same top reasons as yesterday. With that, I'll stop and take any questions you might have on this proposal.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Scott? Okay.
MR. VACA: Okay, staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to Section 65.19 concerning the statewide hunting proclamation with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the July 12, 2013, issue of the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Scott. Motion for approval? Moved by Commissioner Morian.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Scott. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
MR. VACA: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Action Item No. 3 is commercially protected finfish reporting requirements mandatory electronic reporting, recommended adoption of proposed changes. Brandi, how are you?
MS. REEDER: I'm doing good, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good.
MS. REEDER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. My name is Brandi Reeder. I am the Fisheries Law Administrator for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm here today to request an amendment to Proclamation 57.372 reporting requirements.
Currently finfish import license holders must submit a copy of each shipment invoice related to commercially protected finfish to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Regional Law Enforcement Office by the 10th of each month following the month of the shipment via fax or over land mail. The requested changes to Proclamation 57.372 packaging requirements, would require mandatory electronic reporting of each imported, exported, or interstate shipment of commercially protected finfish to the Department withing 24 hours via the Department approved internet application.
This rule change will increase efficiency for LE and for license holders alike. It will ensure that data is readily available to staff, reduce reporting errors, as well as provide a tool to ensure compliance. A web based commercially protected finfish database has been developed for the Department and tested by a subset of the industry, who approve of this system and appreciate the streamlined reporting process. Public comment has three in favor of the changes. Do y'all have any question on this item?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Brandi?
MS. REEDER: With that, staff would recommend that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt amendments to 57.372 concerning packaging requirements, with changes as necessary to proposed text as published in the July 19th, 2013, issue of the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Brandi. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER JONES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Jones. Second by Commissioner Hughes. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
MS. REEDER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, we're -- I think we're going to Action Item No. 6 now; is that correct? Thank you, Brandi.
Item 6, exotic species rules amending -- amendments regarding transport of Tilapia and Triploid Grass carp, recommended adoption of the proposed changes, Ken Kurzawski. How are you?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski of the Inland Fisheries Division, and I'm here today to ask for your approval of some changes we proposed to transport rules for Tilapia and Triploid Grass carp.
The way we regulate the possession of exotic fishes is by a harmful and potentially harmful list and that does include various species of Tilapia and the Asian carps, which the Grass carp, the Triploid Grass carp is part of. We do allow possession of three species of Tilapia and Triploid Grass carp with an exotic species permit.
We have some special restrictions for Mozambique Tilapia and Triploid Grass carp. We do allow those to be possessed for use in private ponds and facilities. People use these in those facilities and private ponds for vegetation control, as a forage fish for bass or -- which is becoming increasingly popular as a food fish in home aquaponic systems. Currently, you can only -- these Mozambique Tilapia and Triploid Grass carp can only be transported by an exotic species permit holder.
We have received some requests recently, both from the public and Legislative -- Legislators to allow the transport of Mozambique Tilapia and Triploid Grass carp to private ponds and facilities by persons other than the exotic species permit holders. The proposed changes would allow transport by non-exotic species permit holders as long as those people transporting those fish have a transport invoice issued by the permit holder. That way we have a way of verifying the legal possession of those exotic fishes.
Possession at the destination would also be covered by the transport invoice, which is in effect for Tilapia and we also have a permit for Triploid Grass carp would cover those possession. We could reinstate that the live fish at these facilities cannot be taken off those specified destinations as we don't want any more transport to places they're not initially approved.
We did receive some public comments on this, all online. Sixteen were in favor. One person disagreed was just a general comment against concerns about exotic species. After -- after the presentation in May, I did receive a number of comments, e-mails about this. There was some misinformation about what we were planning to do here. It was actually just most people thought it was just the opposite, we were going to make this permit illegal and did explain to most of those people and I guess the results of that is we do have general agreement for this.
With that, unless you have any other questions, I would -- staff would recommend that you approve amendments to 57.113, 115, and 116, with any changes as necessary to proposed text in the Texas Register. Any questions I can answer?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Ken? Commissioner Scott, yes.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just a quick question. I need to do this is the reason it's relevant. I've got some ponds that are getting fairly choked up with stuff. So if I want to do this, then I can call and I have to buy this or get this fish from a licensed person?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right, exotic species permit, correct.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay. So now at the end of the day if I end up with no aquatic stuff in there, you know, for the fish, what is the proper method to dispose of the fish other than killing it?
MR. KURZAWSKI: That's the one method. You can't take the fish out of that facility. Just like possessing any exotic species. If you catch it even in public waters, you would have to -- we say gut or behead the fish before you could possess it outside of that property.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Okay, I just wanted to understand that. I would think maybe there's a way to perhaps somebody else get it, but I can follow why you couldn't keep track of it if you do that and it's not a licensed person doing it.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Right.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So, okay. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, we don't have anyone signed up to speak on this. Motion for approval? Moved by Commissioner Scott. Second by Commissioner Lee. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Ken.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you, Commissioners.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Brandi, we're keeping you on your toes. Sorry, I did skip over Item No. 4, so we'll go to possession of undersized oysters, recommended adoption of proposed changes. Thank you.
MS. REEDER: Thank you. Okay, good morning again, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith. I am -- my name is Brandi Reeder. I'm the Fisheries Law Administrator for the Law Enforcement Division. I'm requesting non-substantive changes to the oyster fishery rules regarding undersized oysters.
Currently, compliance of oyster fishermen is hampered in some instances by an inability of officers to ascertain culled oysters from unculled oysters on board commercial oyster boats. While current rules require culled oysters be kept separate from unculled oysters, neither a definition of culled or unculled oysters is present, creating an enforcement issue.
Proposed changes to the Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation include supplying a clear definition for culling oysters and providing a method to assist officers in the identification of unculled oysters. Proposed changes require that unculled oysters may not be placed in a sack. They must always be kept separate from culled oysters, and may not exceed the volumetric equivalent of six sacks.
These changes will provide industry with clarification and supply a criteria to enable a more efficient detection of violations. Public comment was light with only three respondents in favor of the changes. If there are no questions regarding this item, staff recommendation is that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt amendments to the Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation Sections 58.11, 58.21, and 58.22, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any questions for Brandi? Motion for approval? Moved by Commissioner Scott. Second by Commissioner Morian. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would like to make clear for the record that in the motion on hunter ed., that the staff's recommendation was that the passing score for the online option was 75 and that was my motion and I hope the rest of the Commission is supportive of that. I don't know if whether there was any confusion. And I think I would like just as an observation, Chairman Friedkin made a great suggestion, that is if someone misses a question on the online option, before you get your certificate, you've got to go back and rereview any missed questions. We'll work with the software vendors to try to put that in place. So 75 and then that suggestion on any missed questions that an applicant happens to miss. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Thanks for the clarification.
Okay, Item No. 7 is 2013-2014 late season migratory regulations, recommended adoption of proposed changes.
MR. KRAAI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners, and Mr. Smith. It's kind of an honor to be here again today. Especially considering the regulatory season or regulatory cycle we've had this past year.
As you heard yesterday in Mr. Smith's update, there were some significant changes largely with the early season that we all view as true victories for fellow migratory bird hunters in the state of Texas. And I would be remiss if I didn't recognize Wildlife Division staff for their efforts in dove banding, doing dove surveys, to Corey Mason now with Region 3. I wouldn't say in greener pastures, but certainly a different pasture. And especially Dave Morrison, our Small Game Program Director. He did an excellent job this year not only representing the state of Texas to the Central Flyaway Council, but single handedly representing the entire Flyaway to the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and it was a job well done across the board.
With that being said, as you heard, I am here. My name is Kevin Kraai, Waterfowl Program Leader with the State of Texas and I am here to show you staff proposals for the upcoming migratory bird season for late season species. To begin with, much like the successes we had with early season, just for a quick update, overall waterfowl are doing quite well. Especially ducks. As you can see here by this graph, we're near record levels since 1955 since we've been taking this data. So overall, we're -- in some instances, it's kind of in the glory days of waterfowl hunting at the moment due to excellent conditions in the breeding grounds.
Break that down by species. There's a couple of species that kind of stand out for the most part. All these species are at or above their population objectives or long-term averages. With the exception of Scaup and Pintails and we remain concerned about those and we actually have some regulatory adjustments with a couple of these species due to that.
So moving on to our staff proposals for ducks, mergansers, coots, geese, and cranes for this upcoming season. To begin with, these recommendations are supported by the Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee and supported by Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee. Again, some changes are more than just calendar shifts from last year and some changes -- we do have some changes from the presentation I showed you in March that we'll talk about in a minute. Those specifically have to do with bag limits for Scaup and Canvasbacks, modifications to our presentation -- our recommendations earlier for a White-fronted goose season and as you heard yesterday, for all migratory game birds, the possession limit is now three times the daily bag limit.
To begin with, we'll start with the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. And just for clarification, this is a Management Unit that goes all the way to Canada and is not technically a zone. Our proposal this year is a calendar shift for this zone for all ducks in -- for all ducks. With the youth season proposal of October 19th and 20th, a regular season to reopen on October 26th and 27th, close for four days to allow for taking advantage of weekends, reopen on November 1st and run to January 26th, which is the end of Federal frameworks this year.
Dusky ducks will be restricted to a five-day restriction again throughout the state and for the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, that would be November 4th through January 26th. To look at that briefly on a calendar and how that looks. Again, regarding the early season selections which have already been approved. In green there you see the early Teal season. In dark blue you can see the proposed youth season with the opening weekend the 26th and 27th, with our four-day split in red, and then the remainder of the season running out.
Moving on to the South Zone, again much like the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. The South Zone is nothing more than a calendar shift from the previous year with an October 26th and 27th proposed youth season, regular season November 2nd through December 1st, a 14-day closure, a two-week closure following Thanksgiving to reopen on December 14th, then run out through January 26th. Again, Dusky ducks largely because of Mottled ducks, issues and concerns with that species, we expect a five-day closure there November 7th through December 1, and then the rest of the season similar to the regular. To look at that on the calendar. Again, the Teal season in green. Youth season is in dark blue and light blue being the regular season with the two-week split following Thanksgiving.
Moving on to the North Zone, if you recall back in March, this is a little bit different proposal than what we had in the past. This year the Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee decided the would like to take advantage of our North and South Zones and provide a little bit of extra opportunity for our hunters that are willing to travel or live along that I-10 corridor. So we're actually proposing a staggered split.
Essentially what that means is our split would be a week later than the South Zone. Thus, essentially increasing the time that someone could hunt ducks in the state of Texas by a week. So what that looks like is, again, very similar to the South Zone with the youth season 26th to the 27th, with a November 2nd opener similar to the South Zone and -- but instead of closing the weekend after -- the Monday after Thanksgiving, it would exist another week, which is December 8th, reopen December 21st, run to January 26th. Dusky duck season would be November 7th through December 8th similar to the rest of the regular season. Look at that on a calendar, you can see that that split is essentially one week later than the south zone.
Regards to the bag limit, statewide bag limits for these species, there's only two changes for ducks from the previous years and these are in accordance with these individual species harvest management strategies that were, you know, in accordance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of the decline in Scaup that you saw in their breeding population this past year, that strategy has called for a restrictive season this year which is a three-bird bag limit down from six last year.
In regards to Canvasbacks, it's another little bit of good news. For the first time since 1964, the state of Texas will be allowed two Canvasbacks. So that's been a species of concern. We've actually had closed seasons in the near -- in recent history, so this is another good example of certain species doing quite well. The only other thing I would like to point out here again is the possession limit. For all migratory game birds, now we're allowed three times the daily bag limit.
Moving on to geese. There's quite a few things to talk about here, and we'll start with the East Zone just to get it out of the way. In regards to the season dates for Light geese and Canada geese, this is no change from last year. Simple calendar progression. Proposal is November 2nd through January 26th for Light geese and Canada geese with a conservation order beginning January 27th and moving to -- closing March 23rd.
White-fronted geese there is highlighted. If you recall back in March, I presented a little bit different season structure. To get a little background on that, for the last five years because of the management plan associated with this species and its requirement within that management plan to have a shorter season than the other species, we essentially have a two-week shorter season that we have to fit into our existing seasons and naturally that causes some people -- you know, do you want to have it early, do you want it late. When you have geese landing your decoys that you have to lay off of, everybody has opinions.
And so over the last five years, probably the most -- the number one commented topic we've had is from goose hunters saying that we should close these seasons altogether instead of opening them altogether. Well, through information that we've gathered over the years, harvest data, it didn't seem that there was any more harvestable opportunities late versus early. Matter of fact, early kind of outweighs a little bit of the late. So we decided in respect to them, the Technical Committee said we would propose it and to see if it would truly gain -- you know, get the support that many said it would.
Essentially, we did propose that. We have received recommendation or comments back from the public and it basically didn't get a ton of support. It did have quite a few naysayers, if you will. But more importantly, not so much of the comments, the Technical Committee has thought that by closing that season the first two weeks when basically the only bird around, especially on the Texas coast, is White-fronts. Snow geese and Canada geese arrive later. Essentially you've now taken an 86-day goose season and made it a 72-day goose season and we feel that that lost opportunity, even though they're still going to have to hold off on this bird at the end of the season, is not worth changing that season the way we've had it the last five years.
So as of right now, we are proposing to continue that season the same way we've had it for the last five years being November 2nd through January 12th, largely because of that loss of opportunity. In regards to the bag limits, there's a couple things to mention here as well. These are no changes from what we've done in the past. Bag limit of three Canada geese, bag limit of two White-fronted geese, and a bag limit of 20 Light geese in the regular season. Largely because of growing populations of Canada geese, both resident and temperate nesting in Canada geese, migrants in the Midwest and the Dakotas, the Fish and Wildlife Service has granted the Central Flyway a framework of eight Canada geese in the regular season. They have also granted the Central Flyway and the Central Flyway alone, a regular season bag limit on Light geese of 50.
The Central Flyway -- or the Migratory Game Bird Technical Committee has discussed this at length and because of continued declining in populations of wintering geese along the Texas coast for a number of reasons, the least of which is the continued loss of rice, agriculture, and drought, we felt that it was not in the best interest of the state of Texas to recommend increasing those bag limits on those species as they continue to decline, at least in the state of Texas.
So staff recommendations at this point are to stay where we were the last few years with three Canada geese, two White-fronted geese, and 20 Light geese. To look at that unfortunately complicated map for the East Zone, again in regards to the early season which are already approved, there is a 16-day early Canada goose season in the East here taking opportunity on resident Canada geese in that part of the world that coincides with Teal season. The gray boxes with maroon letters ending up on January 12th is -- represents the White-fronted goose season. The remainder of the gray boxes represent Light geese and Canada geese. With the blue boxes representing the conservation order.
West Zone geese, across the board this is nothing more than a calendar progression and no changes in regard to the bag limits with a November 2 through February 2 for Light and Dark geese, with a bag limit on Light geese -- or Dark geese with a five, with no more than one of which can be a White-fronted goose and again staying consistent with the East Zone sticking with a 20 Light goose bag limit is staff proposal.
If you look at that much cleaner calendar on a -- here. The gray boxes denote the goose season, the regular goose season and the blue boxes denote the conservation order. Moving on to Sandhill cranes. For all three zones -- A, B, and C -- these are simple calendar progressions of -- with Zone A, November 2 through February 2nd, of a bag limit of three. Zone B with a delayed opener because of Whooping crane migration of November 2 through February 2nd, and a bag limit of three. And then Zone C, which has a little different structure that we're allowed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is December 21st through January 26th, with a bag limit of two.
As far as proposed falconry seasons in the North and South Zones, again calendar shifts from last year, January 27th through February 10th, which essentially allows for the full 107 days we're allowed to hunt waterfowl in those zones. As far as public comments on ducks, for the most part strong support for our proposals. Those that did not support, two were concerned about the staggered splits between the zones, the potential confusion. One wanted to move the split earlier in November, and one wanted a longer youth season. All the other comments were outside what we consider federal frameworks and essentially our control.
Public comment on geese. You can see we had a few more comments on this. We had pretty strong support. But those that did oppose, you can see there that well over half of those comments were in regards to that White-fronted goose season of -- that we proposed earlier. The later closing, one wanted a later closing date overall for geese. One wanted to reduce Snow goose bag limit overall, and 13 opposed some aspect to the conservation order. All other comments were outside the federal frameworks. Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: I have one question.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Hughes.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Kevin, I can't find it here. What's the bag limit for the early Teal season?
MR. KRAAI: That is one of the successes we had this year. Historically, it's always been four since the beginning of -- since it started. But after lots and lots of work, we now made that consistent with the regular duck bag limit and as of this year, it will be six.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Six Teal in the aggregate, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions for Kevin?
MR. KRAAI: No questions? Staff recommends that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts Amendments 31 Subsection 65.318, 320, and 321 concerning the migratory bird proclamation, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in May 24th, 2013, issue of the Texas Register.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Kevin.
MR. KRAAI: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Motion for approval? Moved by Commissioner Hughes. Second by Commissioner Jones. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
Item 9 is revised environmental MOU with the TxDOT, recommended adoption of the TxDOT MOU, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program and staff is delighted to be bringing this item to you this morning for action.
As most of you know, staff of TxDOT and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have been working on a major overhaul of the environmental review MOU for over a decade now. I'm not going to go into the details. You've heard them before. But in a nutshell, staff were trying to achieve two objectives. One of which is to make that process of environmental review more efficient.
Delays in that process cost TxDOT a lot of money, cause delays in environmental -- in the implementation of transportation projects. We've been looking for ways to streamline that process. At the same time, we've been looking for ways to increase the benefits to fish and wildlife resources in Texas through that process of environmental review and the MOU that we've agreed to, that staff have agreed to and are now bringing before you, achieves that by reducing the number of the projects that are actually reviewed and concentrating that review on projects that actually have impacts to fish and wildlife resources where that review and comment could be beneficial for fish and wildlife.
The other thing it does is that it -- is that it moves the review process earlier in the planning of those transportation projects, so that the comments that are made stand a better chance of actually being incorporated into the project. It also allows for TxDOT to add two staff to Texas Parks and Wildlife to concentrate their efforts first on reviewing those projects and secondly on maximizing the benefits of mitigation that occurs in response to the impacts by those transportation projects.
The proposed rule was first published by TxDOT in February. As a result of a couple of comments, there were minor revisions made. The rule was finalized in May. The TxDOT Commission adopted the rule May 30th and if you adopt the rule today, it will go into effect on September the 1st. Since everybody else is asking for questions before they read the motion, I'll do the same thing. Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Scott.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Just a comment I'm quite happy -- excuse me. I'm quite happy to see this finally accomplished. I've been involved with some of these projects that get all dogged off and get everybody -- just seemed like nothing ever gets finished and I just want to compliment y'all getting this accomplished.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, thank you. Any other questions? Okay, so I guess we're up to a motion for approval.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Would you like me to take a deep breath and read the motion to you?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Oh, please. Go ahead.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Staff recommends that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the amendment to 31 TAC Chapter 69.71 concerning the memorandum of understanding between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Department of Transportation concerning the review of public transportation projects for environmental impacts, with changes as necessary to the proposed text as published in the July 19th, 2013, issue of the Texas Register, 39 Tex. reg. 4566-4567.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That was all in one breath? That was pretty good.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Almost. Ann Bright wrote this motion. I would have left a lot of words out.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Understood. Thank you. Moved by Commissioner Scott. Second by Commissioner Jones. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you, Ted.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it.
All right, Item 10 is land acquisition, Gonzales County, approximately 11 acres as an addition to Palmetto State Park.
MS. MARBACH: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Lana Marbach. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. I'm here to present to you an 11-acre addition to Palmetto State Park.
The park is in Gonzales County. It's about an hour's drive south of Austin and east of San Antonio and the subject tract that we're looking to purchase is outlined in red right there. Currently, the property is under contract. It shares about 1,100 feet of common boundary with the park. It will protect the park entrance and trails and provide primitive camping opportunities to overnight visitors.
What's really unique about this acquisition is that it's funded in part -- it's made possible by the Friends of Palmetto State Park. They're contributing 45 percent of the total acquisition cost to make this happen. It will protect some of the boardwalk trails that we discussed yesterday and here's a section of those trails. And there was no public comment received and with that, I'll ask for questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Any questions?
MS. MARBACH: Okay. Staff makes the recommendation that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 11 acres in Gonzales County for addition to Palmetto State Park.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. All right, motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Morian. Second by Commissioner Falcon. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you very much.
MS. MARBACH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Item 11 is land acquisition, Anderson County, approximately 118.5 acres as an addition to the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area, Mr. Corky Kuhlmann.
MR. KUHLMANN: Good morning. For the record, Corky Kuhlmann with the Texas -- with the Land Conservation Program and this is a acquisition at Engeling Management Area. We are doing this in one reading. East Texas, Anderson County, right outside of Palestine. The tract is on the west side about midway, 118 acres. The tract was bought originally in the 50s by an area manager that saw some usefulness to it. He actually went to Parks and Wildlife. He was a manager of the area and said that it would be a good acquisition to get for the WMA and was told there wasn't funding, if y'all can imagine that. But he -- so he bought it.
And years later, the family came to us about six months ago and wanted to sell to Parks and Wildlife in his memory. Having said that, it shares a common boundary with park of about a mile, an additional access from that side of the park, additional recreational opportunities, and the current owners do not own the minerals; so we're not getting them. And there's a larger picture of the tract. And I guess we're taking questions first.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions for Corky? No questions. Go ahead, read.
MR. KUHLMANN: Staff recommends that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire approximately 118.49 acres in Anderson County for an addition to the Engeling Wildlife Management Area.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER JONES: So moved.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Jones. Second by Commissioner Lee. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Corky, thank you.
MR. KUHLMANN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Action Item No. 12 has been withdrawn. And we're on Item No. 13 now, personnel matters, Executive Director compensation. Dawn.
MS. HEIKKILA: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Dawn Heikkila. I'm the Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Administration.
The item before you today deals with the Executive compensation, specifically actions taken by the 83rd Legislature to increase compensation for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director. The 83rd Legislature increased the cap for Executive compensation from 143 -- 143,000 to 180,000. The Commission authorizes the compensation level for the Agency's Executive head up to the capped amount.
To increase the pay amount for our Executive Director, the Commission will need to determine an appropriate amount up to and including the new salary level. The last opportunity to address the Executive compensation for our Executive Director was November of 2009, at which time the Commission approved to raise the Executive Director's salary from 130,000 to 143.
Under the provisions of the Texas Government Code Section 551.074, personnel matters, any action taken to increase the Executive Director's compensation must be taken in an open meeting. Therefore, I'm asking the Commission to approve a resolution as shown in Exhibit A to increase the salary for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director. If there are no questions, then I'll go ahead and read the motion.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please.
MS. HEIKKILA: Any questions? Staff is recommending that the proposed resolution be adopted and the proposed resolution in accordance with Article IX -- or I'm sorry, Article VI Texas Parks and Wildlife schedule of exempt positions and the Article IX Section 3.04 Subsection D of Senate Bill 1, which is our budget bill, the state budget bill, acts of the 83rd Texas Legislature 2013 that Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves an action to increase the salary of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director from 143,000 to 180,000 annually to be effective September 1st, 2013.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions, discussion? Please.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would like to make a motion. I would like to move approval of the motion enthusiastically and I wish the number were higher because it's long overdue and it needs to be higher; but anyway, and I wanted to say that -- not that this isn't obvious, but this Commission is very enthusiastic about the job that Carter Smith does here and the leadership he brings to this outstanding Department and we're thrilled he's here. He has done a fantastic job, and please don't go anywhere any time soon.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's well said.
(Round of applause)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Carter. Agreed. Any other comments? Second by Commissioner Lee. So moved by Commissioner Duggins. Second by Commissioner Lee. All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Thank you.
MS. HEIKKILA: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Dawn, thank you.
Briefing Item No. 14 is the application of unmanned aerial systems technology in support of TPWD fish and wildlife conservation goals, Mr. Tim Birdsong. How are you?
MR. BIRDSONG: I'm doing well, good morning. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Tim Birdsong. I'm Chief of the Inland Fisheries Division's Habitat Conservation Branch and this briefing will highlight a collaboration with The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University and the Utah Water Research Laboratory based at Utah State University and the partnership has focused on exploring applications of unmanned aerial systems in natural resources management.
And the specific platform that we've tested, this picture here, and this system flies completely autonomous on a predetermined flight path and collects digital still, visual and near-infrared imagery that can be post-processed to form these high resolution geo-reference mosaics. And to give you an idea of the quality of the imagery, I'll provide an example from Pinto Creek. This is a small tributary of the Rio Grande in Kinney County and the best available imagery, aerial imagery for much of the state is collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Imagery Program and that's one meter resolution collected roughly every two to three years.
And on the right side of the screen, you see imagery that was collected by the unmanned aerial system. This was 7-centimeter resolution imagery and clearly in this example you can identify instream habitat features such as riffles and boulders, undercuts in the limestone, vegetation, and other features that would typically be characterized during ground based surveys.
And to give you an idea of some of the potential applications of this, we did fly an 8-mile segment of the Guadalupe River immediately downstream of Canyon reservoir. This is known as the Guadalupe River Trout Fishery and the annual economic impact of this segment of river is over $80 million from tubing and fishing and during the December to February period, the Trout Unlimited Chapter there, Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited, that's the largest Trout Unlimited Chapter in the nation and their organization alone spends over $2 million during that three-month period. And we recently partnered with Trout Unlimited to conduct some small habitat improvements within this segment of river. Mainly bank stabilization projects that reduce sediment input and support over summer survival of trout and we're interested in partnering with Trout Unlimited to conduct other habitat improvements.
And so the detailed resolution of the scene imagery allows us to effectively plan some of those habitat improvements and a real similar approach was taken on a four-and-a-half-mile segment of the South Llano River. This is adjacent to the South Llano River State Park and the Texas Tech University Llano River Field Station. And it's also the site of a recently designated South Llano River paddling trail. Arlene Kalmbach, our Landowner Incentive Plan Coordinator, highlighted some of the watershed improvements that are being supported on private lands in the watershed at a previous Commission meeting.
We now have 27 active restoration projects on private lands. That's affecting over 60,000 acres of the South Llano River watershed and we wanted to be able to detect changes in instream habitat conditions as we implemented those watershed improvements and so the unmanned aerial systems imagery along with side-scan sonar, which is another emerging technology that we've used, has allowed us to delineate instream habitat features such as boulders, woody debris, substrate tide, other features that are important to Guadalupe bass, our state fish and a number of other focal species.
So as these improvements are conducted, we'll be able to see the impacts on not just habitats, but also populations. So what you see there on the map is the post-processed imagery where we've delineated the habitat features. Those dots are Guadalupe bass that were collected. Another example of how we've used this unmanned aerial system to benefit Guadalupe bass is in the Blanco River and Guadalupe bass were native to the Blanco River until they were extirpated from the system back in the 1980s. Smallmouth bass were stocked there, which are nonnative, they hybridized with Guadalupe bass, pushed them out of the system, and we really didn't have an opportunity to reintroduce or re-establish Guadalupe bass without effectively removing Smallmouth.
And that opportunity was presented to us back in 2011 when the Blanco River ceased to flow and it was relegated to a few intermittent pools. And so we used the unmanned aerial system to map the remaining pools in the system, provided that data set to the Nature Conservancy's local project leader Rachel Ranft who has close working relationships with landowners in the area and the landowners provided us with access across private lands to these pools where we electrofished and netted and removed Smallmouth and this -- these two images on the left side of the screen here show the same perspective from the same road crossing in October of 2011 in the middle of the worst of the drought and then in April of 2012. And you can see that flow has returned providing an opportunity to re-establish or reintroduce Guadalupe bass. We stocked over 100,000 genetically pure Guadalupe bass fingerlings in 2012 and over 200,000 in 2013 and as long as the Blanco continues to flow, then we hope to be able to promote a fishery for Guadalupe bass in the Blanco, which has not occurred since the 80s.
And I just checked the flow gauges yesterday and the Blanco is about 25 percent of normal flow, which is better than most rivers in the state at this point. So as the -- as this partnership progressed, we expanded our focus beyond rivers and streams, which is the primary focus of these two University units that I mentioned. We're all -- they were interested in partnering with the Inland Fisheries Division on aquatic resource conservation applications; but Ross Melinchuk, Carter, and Division directors promoted a broader perspective and we began to look at other applications by the other divisions and the coastal applications that were evaluated, we collected imagery from the Galveston Bay system. This is West Bay, and I'll talk about three different areas that were mapped.
The Texas Seagrass Conservation Plan was updated in 2012 and we identified a number of routine monitoring needs that would be conducted by aircraft and there was interest in monitoring coverage of seagrasses every five years and prop scars annually for specific areas and we demonstrated the ability to identify coverage of seagrasses with this resolution of imagery that was provided. You can also detect prop scars with the imagery that was collected by this unmanned aerial system.
Another application was evaluating success of wetland restoration projects. This is a 60-acre restoration project in the area of West Bay and we were easily able to detect vegetative coverage, which is something at this point we've contracted out to manned aircraft. And a comparable project, recent comparable project cost about $3,000 to fly with a manned aircraft to collect similar imagery and the cost of flying this area was really just travel costs for the staff that flew the area.
Another potential application that we explored was animal counts and in this example, we flew North Deer Island and the nesting bird rookery and it's difficult to see; but we did -- we were able to detect birds on nests and right now those surveys are conducted in the summer by boat and you really don't get a good picture of what's occurring on the inner portions of the island. So this would be a more quantitative assessment if we were able to implement this as part of the annual surveys.
As far as applications on wildlife management areas and other locations we're actively managing habitats, here's an example that applies to Texas. It was actually done on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, but they were successful in delineating specific plant species within managed wetlands. And you could detect changes in plant composition over time and their focus was on an invasive plant that was negatively affecting conditions for waterfowl.
And we flew flights over four wildlife management areas here in Texas -- the Kerr, the Matador, the Chaparral, and one other. And this example in the Chaparral focuses in on the ability of the unmanned aerial system to replace ground based woody vegetation surveys that are conducted and they are roughly 68, 30-meter transects within the WMA and clearly you can identify species of vegetation and percent cover. so another potential application.
This was the first generation platform that was developed by Utah State that we tested. The second generation is now available and Texas State University intends to acquire that within the next couple of months and the current -- the current range of the first generation plane, it's a battery operated platform that can fly about 30 minutes. And this new model is gas powered and can fly up to 100 miles. They had their first test flight of 100 miles last week. But this new platform will be outfitted with some new sensors and cameras, including radio telemetry capabilities, which were tested successfully in Utah and a real exciting use for the aquatics programs is the thermal cameras which could be used to detect spring inputs and thermal refugia for native fish conservation projects.
Of course the -- I'll call it the holy grail I guess, is the ability to supplement our more than 30,000 miles, 35,000 miles of aerial surveys that are conducted annually to do animal population surveys and so for waterfowl, Kevin can talk more about this; but over 5,200 miles of area of Texas that's surveyed and those are the flatlands that are pictured on that map. Mule deer, Pronghorn antelope, Bighorn sheep, over 20,000 miles of surveys conducted annually and so the technology is not there yet. We're hoping it will get there. We're really well positioned I think to help inform the further development of this technology. We've demonstrated a number of different uses for the Department. We hope to acquire this second generation platform in Texas within the next couple of months and we'll begin identifying some projects to test that platform on.
We're really interested in trying to work with the universities to develop some automated processing techniques, so that we don't just move our staff from doing ground based surveys to sitting on a computer drawing lines and circles around features; but we would like to be able to have these, again, these automated processing techniques.
The Federal Aviation Administration, when they were re-authorized by Congress recently, they -- Congress included a requirement that FAA incorporate unmanned aerial systems into national airspace by Fall of 2015 and to support that, they're designating six testing sites around the country. There's university consortium here in Texas that's submitted a proposal led by A&M Corpus Christi and they should know within -- by the end of the year whether or not that was selected. But there could be a hotbed of drone development activity that occurs within the next couple of years and we're, again, well positioned to have our needs met.
And Utah State University also submitted a proposal to designate a testing area in the Western U.S. and, again, we're an active partner there. So with that, I'll answer any questions that you have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's exciting. Any questions? Commissioner Lee.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I've got one. I'm really happy that y'all are doing this. I actually had my ranch done with the first generation that is not near as good as this one, so the technology is phenomenal and the clarity -- you can put it on a laptop, and it's just amazing. You know, they flew all of mine in about 30 minutes. But Dr. Trauth who's head of Texas State down in San Marcos, I've got some other things I'm working with them on. I'd kind of like to be kept in the loop on this stuff because there's some applications even right now that some stuff I'm trying to help them and the county get put together. So I would like to stay in the loop on this one because this to me is a really, really interesting deal.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yeah, it's an exciting world and it's, you know, evolving very quickly. Are we currently operating line of site or are we doing GPS/GO referenced flights that are automated or is it line-of-site command?
MR. BIRDSONG: Well, so we have flight planning software and so the flights, we upload GPS coordinates and it's all automated; but you can -- you have a radio control operator on the ground.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
MR. BIRDSONG: And it is line of site for the most part and you can take control of the platform at any point during the flight. So from the ground control station, they are monitoring elevation, flight speed, wind speed, other thermals, other activity that may affect the flight.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And do we own the first generation assets that we're using?
MR. BIRDSONG: Texas State University has a cooperative agreement with Utah State University and the agreement allows for them to support -- basically operate as a service center in the South Central U.S. and Utah State University is moving towards a spinoff company where they will sell these low cost platforms. And there are much more expensive platforms that are out there.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
MR. BIRDSONG: But this is a low cost option that was being specifically developed for use by natural resource agencies.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And just real quickly, do you know what the FAA is currently -- how they're defining an unmanned flight? Is it altitude defined or length of flight or distance or how -- what are they calling an unmanned flight? Because that's going to have a big affect on a lot of unmanned flight.
MR. BIRDSONG: Yeah. So Utah State and Texas State have both applied and received a certificate of authorization from FAA to operate above this 300-meter threshold that's designated and so typically recreational operators are staying below that 300-meter threshold. But we have the ability to fly above that and we identified the proposed flight areas and some of those are as high as a thousand meters, so. Most of the flights that I highlighted just now were between 1 and 400 meters.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great, exciting.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: It's unbelievably cool. It really is.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Is there -- go ahead.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, go ahead Bill.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Bill, go ahead.
COMMISSIONER JONES: Are there any restrictions on where you can go or what you can do with the imagery?
MR. BIRDSONG: Yeah. So new law that was just passed in State Legislature, House Bill 912 and it's -- it will be restrictive on how we can, as an Agency, utilize these systems. There are exceptions for Universities and so as long as we're continuing this collaboration with Utah State and Texas State and they have a certificate of authorization from the FAA, then we can operate pretty much anywhere that we want.
There's also an exception within that legislation that allows for flights to occur within those designated FAA testing areas and so much of Texas would be designated within that testing area if the Texas proposal is awarded. So right now if we were to acquire the platform and use it ourselves, we wouldn't fall under those exceptions and we would need permission from landowners to be able to operate, which would make it difficult to perform some of the applications I highlighted, such as river corridor mapping because you're crossing multiple private properties in collecting some of the imagery along the stream corridor.
We did coordinate with most of the landowners on the South Llano and the Blanco in both of those examples. But you can imagine the number of different private properties on the Guadalupe River. You consider all those camps downstream of Canyon reservoir. So it would make it difficult for us to use. That bill passed and takes effect September 1.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just had a very similar to question to that of Bill's, which is I do have some concern about private property owners thinking we're spying on them and I don't know how we address that. I just think we just need to be mindful that not everybody is going to be thrilled to have somebody flying a plane taking photographs of their property if it could show activities on their property. I just -- it's just a sensitive issue. Although you can assure yourself of job security if you'll copy each of us with photographs of Dick Scott's backyard on Saturday night.
COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Be careful what he talks you into.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Lee.
COMMISSIONER LEE: One quick question. Can you give us an idea of the cost of the last generation, current generation, each one of these units? I mean just ballpark.
MR. BIRDSONG: Yeah. The first generation cost about 15,000 and most of that cost was tied to sensors and cameras. You can actually buy that platform. I can point you to a website where you could buy the basic remote control airplane for less than $200 and then, of course, Utah State has --
COMMISSIONER LEE: All the equipment.
MR. BIRDSONG: -- outfitted it with all these sensors and cameras and updated the payload requirements. But the second generation, we don't know yet. It's probably going to be in the 30 to $50,000 range; but it's a much larger plane. It's more stable. It has about a 10-pound payload, and it's -- it will have these different sensor packages that you can just kind of drop in and out, depending on what sort of imagery you want to collect that day. So it will make it really simple for applications by groups like us that really just want to be able to train -- be trained on how to use something and not be involved in the R and D.
COMMISSIONER LEE: Are we doing some intermediate and longer term planning within the Department and then perhaps outside with our Law Enforcement arms to use this in other more obvious applications? And kind of a second thought and it's a little kidding; but, you know, maybe the $5 million for one helicopter and, you know, 30,000 for a great number of these might be more effective. I understand the helicopter is marked for something different, but it seems very efficient.
MR. BIRDSONG: Law Enforcement was an active partner. They were actively involved in this workgroup that formed within the Agency and there have been a number of different demonstration flights to different companies who've come in and offered to us and some of those are really high end, multimillion dollar drones that can be outfitted with...
COMMISSIONER JONES: Weapons.
MR. BIRDSONG: Yeah, weapons and lots of other -- yeah, and so --
COMMISSIONER LEE: But are we coordinating both inside the Department with Law Enforcement and outside? Is this something that you're thinking about or is it more just limited to survey?
MR. BIRDSONG: There are probably 30 different companies right now active in Texas that are developing different -- either drone platforms or sensors and systems and a lot of those will be coordinated through this FAA test site if it's developed. But right now, A&M College Station, A&M Corpus Christi, Texas State, there are a number of different universities that are the lead on research and development.
COMMISSIONER LEE: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's great, and thanks.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: One more question. Is the resolution high enough to actually conduct a game survey with it on a tract of land as opposed to using a helicopter?
MR. BIRDSONG: Not at this point. I mean the best resolution imagery we have is 7-centimeters and so with visual imagery, probably not; but when you add in thermal imagery and some of these other capabilities, then, yes, you may be able to. So that's -- there are probably 20 different projects that our workgroup has identified that we want to test with this second generation platform as soon as we get it. Some of those are things like deer surveys.
So we've talked about these nighttime spotlights surveys that are conducted along the roadways and could you fly the platform above that vehicle and determine whether or not game are actually evenly distributed across the landscape or whether they're congregating along those road corridors and so lots of really interesting questions. Even the feral hog issue, we talked about the opportunity to -- with some of the control measures and basically the pesticide for hogs, could you monitor using the thermal imagery to see how long it takes for those animals to move away from where that -- you know, where they -- where that medication was provided until they die and so anyway, lots of really interesting research applications across the Agency.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That's exciting. That's great, good. Any other thoughts? Thanks for your presentation. Appreciate it, thanks.
MR. BIRDSONG: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Tim.
All right, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business and I declare us adjourned.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
(Commission Meeting Adjourns)
In official recognition of the adoption of this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, we hereby affix our signatures this _____ day of ______________, 2013.
T. Dan Friedkin, Chairman
Ralph H. Duggins, Vice-Chairman
Antionio Falcon, M.D., Member
Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., Member
Bill Jones, Member
Jim Lee, Member
Margaret Martin, Member
S. Reed Morian, Member
Dick Scott, Member
C E R T I F I C A T ESTATE OF TEXAS )
COUNTY OF TRAVIS )
I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.
I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date 27th day of September, 2013.
Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR
CSR No.: 8311
Expiration: December 31, 2014
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