Conservation Committee

Wednesday, 9:00 a.m., April 14, 1999

Commission Hearing Room
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
Item
No.
Subject Public Hearing
Agenda Item No.
  Approval of the Committee Minutes from the previous meeting.  
  Summary of Minutes  
1. Chairman's Charges (Oral Presentation) Committee Only
2. Memorandum of Understanding with TxDot
Staff: Roy Frye
6
3. Technical Guidance – Conservation that Works
Staff: Kirby Brown
Committee Only
4. Other Business  

Summary of Minutes
Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee
January 20, 1999

BE IT REMEMBERED that heretofore on the 20th day of January, 1999, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Parks and Wildlife Commission of Texas, in the commission hearing room of the Parks and Wildlife Headquarters complex, Austin, Travis County, Texas, beginning at 3:55 p.m., to-wit:

I. COMMISSION ATTENDANCE:

Mickey Burleson, Chair
Lee M. Bass
Nolan Ryan
Dick Heath (absent)
Ernest Angelo, Jr.
John Avila, Jr. (absent)
Susan Howard-Chrane
Carol E. Dinkins (absent)
Ray Clymer

II. APPROVAL OF MINUTES

Nolan Ryan moved to approve the minutes of the last committee meeting and Lee M. Bass seconded the motion, which carried.

III. THE FOLLOWING ITEMS WERE PRESENTED FOR COMMITTEE ACTION:

1. BRIEFING ­ CHAIRMAN'S CHARGES

Presenter: Andrew Sansom

Mr. Sansom pointed out that Item 4, Briefing - Public Access on Wildlife Management Areas, is directly related to the charges. Therefore, he had no further comments at this time.

2. ACTION ­ TXDOT MOU

Presenter: Roy Frye

Mr. Frye explained the procedures allowing the Parks and Wildlife Commission to adopt a renegotiated Memorandum of Understanding with the Texas Department of Transportation and stated the purpose is to guide the investigation of environmental impacts of highway projects and TPWD involvement. Formal Commission adoption is required by statute, which also requires the MOU be revised and adopted by each agency by rule every five years. After the joint public hearing scheduled for January 22, 1999, staff will publish in the Texas Register a notice of this Commission's intent to adopt the MOU, and a request for public comment. The comments will be summarized and presented with the MOU for final adoption at a later date.

This environmental review process has been good for Texas highways and also fish and wildlife habitat. TPWD has been able to become a partner with TxDot and several large mitigation banks where TxDot owns the mitigation credit and TPWD owns and manages the lands, such as Old Sabine Bottom WMA north of Tyler and the Tony Houseman Blue Elbow Swamp near Beaumont. Ray Clymer moved to approve staff recommendation to publish in the Texas Register the Commission's intent to adopt by reference the renegotiated Memorandum of Understanding and the motion carried.

3. BRIEFING ­ TRUSTEE ASSESSMENT AND RESTORATION PROGRAM

Presenter: Don Pitts

Don Pitts, the director of the trustee assessment and restoration program within the resource protection division, discussed the natural resource damage assessment process which was initiated in 1990. He said "natural resource damage assessment" is the legal and technical process to pursue restoration for injuries to natural resources caused by discharges of oil and releases of hazardous materials under the authority granted by Federal Oil Spill and Superfund statutes. This is undertaken by a team of state and federal trustees working to reach consensus, along with the responsible entity and the public. The basic premise is that those responsible for natural resource injuries should restore those impacted resources, with the goal of returning the resources to baseline, while compensating for interim losses. Currently in Texas they are pursuing 33 cases, nine of which are in a restoration mode with the remainder still being assessed for damages. By the end of FY1999, almost $11 million will have been recovered for the restoration of fish and wildlife resources and recovered recreational value.

Some key accomplishments are the construction of 334 acres of estuarine wetlands and the additional enhancement of another 10,000 acres; the acquisition of 350 acres of high marsh; the construction of 34 acres of freshwater wetlands; and 36 acres of bottomlands have been set aside through acquisition with an additional 404 acres conserved through a conservation easement. They were able to recover over 20,000 cubic yards of sand removed from Texas beaches as a result of cleanup actions and a valuable 105-acre rookery island was protected through acquisition.

Mr. Pitts showed examples of restoration actions undertaken in a Brownwood subdivision and at San Jacinto Battleground State Park. He noted that the most recent settlement resulted from a 1995 collision between two vessels that spilled oil on the beaches of Matagorda Island, Mustang Island and Padre Island National Seashore during spring break. This had marked impacts on public recreation. They were able to document that loss and recovered $1.1 million, $890,000 of which was destined for Mustang Island State Park.

Dr. Larry McKinney stated this is a very complicated, technical program due to requirements of federal law and the many partnerships involved, but one of the things that helps make Don Pitts and his staff effective is the expertise throughout the department.

4. BRIEFING ­ PUBLIC ACCESS ON WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS

Presenter: Dr. Gary Graham

Dr. Graham briefed the Committee on the progress made to provide increased access opportunities on wildlife management areas. Sierra Diablo was the first WMA, purchased in 1946 to help restore bighorn sheep. During the following 53 years 49 were added for a total of 750,000 acres of land, and are scattered throughout most of the state,. All 50 have some public access during part of the year. 54 percent are open year-round; 24 percent are open most of the year except for a few designated dates; 16 percent are closed for a big part of the year and open only during designated times; and 6 percent are closed almost all year except for a few very select dates. The main reason for closure is the difficulty of getting people out to the site.

Traditionally wildlife management areas are used for public hunting of various species, including numerous youth hunting and sporting events; habitat management with research programs that have produced a wealth of information used by land managers, wildlife management people, educators and citizens throughout the state; seminars and field days where habitat management techniques are demonstrated.

Some of the services being offered to our newer constituents include: Driving tours on 8 percent; interpretive nature trails on 22 percent; hiking trails on 68 percent; primitive camping facilities on 38 percent; bicycle trails on 42 percent; and horseback riding opportunities on designated trails on 35 percent. There are 256 primitive campsites, 89 of which were constructed since FY94; 50 restrooms or composting toilets, 17 of which were constructed since FY94; 470 miles of trails, 98 of which were constructed since FY94; 38 observation stations, 37 of which were built since FY94. Dr. Graham pointed out that four interpretive specialists were hired (one per wildlife region), who are developing displays and materials for the WMA's, as well as assisting with on-site interpretation. The department has invested over a million dollars on these kinds of projects since FY94, and formed cooperative relationships with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (receiving about three-and-a-half million dollars in TDCJ trustee labor), and the Texas Department of Transportation (receiving over seven-and-a-half million dollars in road and parking improvements). The public is beginning to respond to these increased opportunities. A rough estimate of 120,000 people visited WMA's during FY98. Staff feels this is a definite increase but the number cannot accurately be measured since the earlier years were even rougher estimates. The increased visitation is attributed to activities such as watching wildlife, general nature appreciation, and bicycle riding.

Dr. Graham stated that in about six weeks he would be working with senior staff to find ways to continue to enhance access opportunities; one sure method is to spread the word more effectively. A new brochure has been produced and is being distributed at our facilities and some of the TxDot travel centers. A web page is being developed with information on a number of the WMA's. Many sites are showing up on things like the Coastal Birding Trail, which will increase visibility and use of those sites. Dr. Graham was asked if he felt that the fact there was no staff at some areas could be a reason for lack of visitation. He replied that he believed the lack of marketing was the biggest reason and he planned to work with Lydia Saldana to get the word out. He pointed out facilities such as Old Sabine Bottomland Hardwood WMA that are not manned but have information brochures available and people register their names. He also stated that of course staff enhance any outdoor experiences. Mr. Sansom pointed out the department is sending out a request for proposals which will explore the possibility that providers from the private sector may be able to develop a few sites as models or experiments for various activities. Mr. Bass requested a one-page sheet with all of the statistics that were listed since FY94, including the inmate labor donated, number of acres acquired, how many are leased, and visitation numbers when possible. A suggestion was made to charge fees at the staffed sites.

5. ACTION ­ LAND DONATION ­ BEXAR COUNTY

Presenter: Mike Herring

Mike Herring described how The Trust for Public Land facilitated acquisition of both the original 4700 acre tract comprising Government Canyon State Natural Area in 1993 and the additional 1100 acres in 1995. Conservation of this property serves multiple functions such as endangered species habitat, recreational opportunity and protecting the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The 663-acre Davis Ranch-Upland Tract has been identified as a desirable addition to the park and the Trust has negotiated an option to purchase. The tract is 90 percent within the recharge zone and includes one major drainage and three prominent hilltops. It's heavily wooded with excellent habitat diversity.

The Trust has secured funding and is now ready to transfer the property to the department at no cost. The San Antonio Water System will receive a conservation easement for aquifer recharge purposes in exchange for their monetary contribution. Acceptance of this property will not incur any additional operating or infrastructure expenses.

Dave Brown with The Trust for Public Land explained that the land has a fair market value of approximately $1.35 million and they obtained the following donations: $750,000 from the San Antonio Water System; $500,000 from the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation of San Antonio; $100,000 from the USAA Foundation of San Antonio; $15,000 from the Charitable Foundation of the Frost National Bank; $15,000 from the Morris Stafford Charitable Trust; $1,000 from the Duncan Foundation; and $200,000 from the Meadows Foundation of Dallas.

Ernest Angelo, Jr. moved to approve the staff recommendation to place the item on the agenda for full Commission consideration and the motion carried.

IV. OTHER BUSINESS

There was no other business.

V. ADJOURNMENT: Meeting adjourned at 4:30 p.m.


Committee Agenda Item No. 1
Presenter: Andrew Sansom

Conservation Committee
Briefing
Chairman's Charges
April 1999

(This item will be an oral presentation.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 2
Presenter: Roy Frye

Conservation Committee
Action
Memorandum of Understanding
With the Texas Department of Transportation
April 1999

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 6.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 3
Presenter: Kirby Brown

Conservation Committee
Briefing
Technical Guidance – Conservation that Works
April 1999

I. Discussion: The Private Lands and Habitat Enhancement Program provides technical guidance to landowners through consultation, which often includes a written wildlife habitat management plan and written recommendations. In FY 1998 summaries, 10 Technical Guidance Biologists and the Wildlife Division staff were involved in active written wildlife management plans for 9.8 million acres, approximately 7% of Texas' habitats. Staff also provides programs to landowners and the public, and prepares publications on wildlife conservation and habitat management.


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