Conservation Committee

Wednesday, 9:00 a.m., April 5, 2000

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. Sea Grass Conservation Proposals
Staff: Bill Harvey
Committee Only
3. TPRA Grants Rules
Staff: Tim Hogsett
7
4. Proposed Statewide Aquatic Vegetation Management Plan Rules
Staff: Bob Sweeney
Committee Only
5. Nature-based Lodging Economic and Environmental Feasibility Study
Staff: Robert L. Cook
Committee Only
6. Land Transfer – Bexar County (San Jose Mission)
Staff: Kathryn Nichols
10
7. Land Exchange – Burnet County
Staff: Kathryn Nichols
11
8. Grand Parkway – Fort Bend County
Staff: Robert Spain
Committee Only
9. Other Business  

Summary of Minutes
Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee
January 19, 2000

BE IT REMEMBERED that heretofore on the 17th day of November, 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 9:30 a.m., to-wit:

I. COMMISSION ATTENDANCE:

Carol E. Dinkins, Chair
Lee M. Bass
Dick Heath (absent)
Nolan Ryan
Ernest Angelo, Jr.
John Avila, Jr.
Alvin L. Henry
Katharine Armstrong Idsal
Mark E. Watson, Jr.

II. APPROVAL OF MINUTES: Mark E. Watson, Jr. moved to approve the minutes of the last committee meeting and Ernest Angelo, Jr. seconded the motion, which carried.

III. THE FOLLOWING ITEMS WERE PRESENTED FOR COMMITTEE ACTION:

1. BRIEFING – Chairman’s Charges

Presenter: Andrew Sansom

Mr. Sansom noted that Parks Director Walt Dabney will be giving a briefing on House Bill 2108 regarding the possible transfer of State parks to other political subdivisions of the state, which is a direct component of the chairman’s charges. Also, on-going discussions with Texas Tech are taking place about continuing a series of studies related to needs in the 21st Century for parks, recreation, fish and wildlife resources in Texas.

2. BRIEFING – State Park Transfer Update

Presenter: Walt Dabney

Mr. Dabney briefed the Committee on the possible transfer of sites out of the State Park System to a subdivision of the state, listing the criteria and the process being followed. The areas currently involved in discussions include Casa Navarro, Mission San Jose, Old Fort Parker, the Salt Palace, Lockhart, Lubbock Lake Landmark, Galveston Island, Jim Hogg, Rita Blanca and Big Spring. Mr. Dabney noted that if an agreement is negotiated on any of these sites, staff would make a recommendation and ask for Commission approval.

3. BRIEFING – Wetlands Conservation and Ducks Unlimited

Presenters: Gary Graham and Ken Babcock

Dr. Graham introduced Ken Babcock, Director of Operations for Ducks Unlimited (DU), who briefed the Committee on mutual goals concerning the protection, restoration and enhancement of wetlands in Texas.

Mr. Babcock explained that Ducks Unlimited accomplishes everything it does through partnerships and Texas Parks and Wildlife is a valued partner. For the first 50 years of their 63-year existence, Ducks Unlimited raised money in the United States and sent it to Canada to protect wetlands there. This is still an integral part of their business but their scope expanded to cover the entire North American continent, with a new slogan of "Ducks and More." In the mid-1980’s their Board of Directors established a new mission expanding their views of waterfowl to cover the entire life cycle, allowing them to work towards protection of migration and wintering areas, as well as production areas.

The MARSH program was developed as the first step toward the U. S. conservation program whereby seven and a half percent of all money raised by Ducks Unlimited in a particular state comes back to that state to do conservation work. Regional offices were also established in addition to the national headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. The first one was in Bismarck, North Dakota and allowed DU to extend the work done on nesting areas of Canada southward into the north central United States. The next office was established in Sacramento, California in 1987 and emphasized wintering areas for waterfowl. It focused on the highly altered, very damaged wetland systems of the California central valley, which winters more than 50 percent of all the ducks and geese migrating through the Pacific flyway.

In 1990 the southern regional office, which includes Texas, was opened in Jackson, Mississippi. This office was established specifically with the objective of working with state and federal agencies, as well as private landowners, to secure migration and wintering habitats in the three eastern flyways (Central, Mississippi and Atlantic). Up to two-thirds of North America’s waterfowl either migrate through or winter in this region, so it is extremely important from a continental standpoint. The last regional office was opened in 1998 in Ann Arbor, Michigan and serves the most highly populated and highly industrialized region. Some of the more imperiled species of Canada geese are associated with that area and it is an important production and migration habitat for the Atlantic flyway, where most of the continent’s black duck population resides.

Ducks Unlimited also maintains an office in Washington, D.C., where staff work with other conservation organizations and congressional leaders, trying to ensure that land-use policies are consistent with DU’s mission.

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan defines joint ventures for the southern region and in Texas the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project aims to provide quality wetlands on private lands. The partners involved include the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, DU and Texas Parks and Wildlife. DU and TPW have pooled financial and human resources to provide nonfederal matches for a series of grants received through the North American Wetland Conservation Act, the primary financial underpinning for this partnership. The partners provide engineering design for wetland restoration and some funds for levies and water control structures. In return the landowners pay any residual costs for the actual development and agree to maintain the project for a minimum of 15 years providing the water annually at their own expense.

The Texas Prairie Wetlands Project includes 28 coastal counties, which are some of the most important wetland areas in the state of Texas or the entire Central Flyway. More than a thousand acres of wetland have been restored in six counties and between 500 and a thousand acres in five more counties. The project also provides a diversity of habitat by reflooding rice fields in about one-third of the acreage. An additional third is managed as moist soil for natural vegetation and more than 20 percent is maintained in fresh marsh. The remainder is either in permanent open water or a variety of other kinds of wetland habitat. The total acreage under management is nearly 20,000, bringing 160 Texas landowners into partnership. The partners have provided technical assistance regarding wetland management and other things that will enhance lands not necessarily included in this project, affecting another 280,000 acres.

Mr. Babcock explained that "MARSH" stands for "Matching Aid to Restore State Habitat," and that DU made in excess of $2 million available through the MARSH program for conservation work on public lands in Texas. Approximately 93,000 acres have been conserved on 44 projects in Texas and DU’s funds have been matched three and four to one to accomplish $10 million worth of actual work in Texas wetlands. Mr. Babcock stated that the Peach Point Wildlife Management Area is a great example of the conservation work that can be done with partnering.

Three of Duck Unlimited’s five priority areas are located in Texas and they would like to address these areas with a program called "CARE" – "Conserving Agriculture Resources in the Environment." The strategy would be using an ecosystem approach, which has worked very successfully for Ducks Unlimited. DU generated two to two and a half million dollars in 1998 and 1999 for conservation work in Louisiana and Arkansas, which is twice the amount generated for Texas. Priorities for wetland conservation in Texas are equal to that in Arkansas and Louisiana and DU stands ready to work with TPW. DU’s goals in Texas are to maintain and expand the Texas Wetland Prairie Program, increase activity on the coastal marsh areas (part of the Gulf Coast Joint Venture), and expand their presence with staff in the playa lakes and in the piney woods regions. Conservation programs such as these not only help wetlands and waterfowl, they benefit other game species, song birds, marsh birds, endangered plants and animals, improve water quality, help control floods and provide a great base for recreation in Texas and other places.

Mr. Babcock introduced Ed Ritter as the person who has worked in Texas to deliver the Texas Prairie Wetlands Program and closed by saying TPW staff provide leadership roles far beyond Texas boundaries. Dr. Graham noted that discussions would be taking place regarding future partnership possibilities. Commissioner Dinkins complimented the wetlands restoration project at Matagorda Island; Mr. Babcock stated there are even greater opportunities there and they will be pursuing them.

4. ACTION – LAND ACQUISITION – JACK COUNTY

Presenter: Kathryn Nichols

Ms. Nichols explained that this item concerns one of the three small acquisitions for Fort Richardson State Historical Park that the Commission approved at the November meeting. At that time the property had not been appraised and the owners were offering it for $75,000.00. After it was appraised at $35,000 the owners decided to offer it to their tenants, subsequently offering it to the department for $45,000. Ms. Nichols is asking for approval of the $45,000, since the item approved in November was for appraised value prior to the appraisal being done. The tract abutts the Park and contains some buildings that need to be removed in order to protect the view.

There was some discussion regarding the unsightly buildings and the fact that the appraisal also showed the size of the tract was smaller than the owner knew.

Commissioner Angelo moved that the item be placed on the consent agenda for the next day. Commissioner Watson seconded it and the motion passed unanimously.

IV. OTHER BUSINESS: There was no other business.

V. ADJOURNMENT: Meeting adjourned at 10:05 a.m.


Committee Agenda Item No. 1
Presenter: Andrew Sansom

Conservation Committee
Briefing
Chairman's Charges
April 2000

(This item will be an oral presentation.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 2
Presenter: Bill Harvey

Conservation Committee
Action
Implementing the "Texas Seagrass Conservation Plan"
April 2000

I. Discussion: Seagrasses represent an important component of the Texas coastal ecology. Five genera occur in Texas and each is a highly specialized marine flowering plant that flourishes in shallow water. The benefits of healthy seagrass beds are well documented, as these plants provide:

The Conservation Plan identifies several threats to seagrasses in Texas, including dredging and degraded water quality. However, perhaps the most immediate and visible threat to seagrass is that of random motorboat traffic and its attendant affects on seagrass fragmentation—a phenomenon generally called "prop scarring."

Earlier this year, staff began researching the effects and genesis of prop scarring. Preliminary results suggest that, indeed, prop scarring is a substantial contributor to seagrass fragmentation and loss. Further, these results also suggest that prop scarring may result in increased substrate erosion in and adjacent to damaged areas, which may further exacerbate fragmentation and loss. Efforts in replanting damaged seagrasses indicate restoration of damaged seagrass meadows may be cost prohibitive and ineffective.

To insure local community input into the Plan implementation, staff assembled a citizen’s Seagrass Conservation Task Force. The Goals of the Task Force were straightforward.

The Commission has authority to establish "scientific areas" and to promulgate rules necessary to manage boat traffic these scientific areas. Members of the Task Force brought forward two proposals for State Scientific Areas to begin implementing the Seagrass Conservation Plan.

Nine-Mile Hole State Scientific Area

The first of these is a proposal for creation of a Scientific Area in portion of the Laguna Madre called "Nine-Mile Hole" and sometimes called "The Graveyard." This area is located south of Baffin bay, and just south of the historic Yarborough Pass and part of the Hole overlays the Padre Island National Seashore. The objective of this proposal is to establish an area designed to enhance fishing experience by managing boat traffic through the Nine-Mile Hole. This proposal would set aside a portion of the "Hole" and prohibit boat traffic through, but not around, this set-aside area.

The net effect would be that of establishing an area free of high-speed boat traffic, which could be safely waded, paddled poled, drifted or accessed by trolling motor. The Padre Island National Seashore overlays part of this area and the staff of the National Seashore has agreed to help implement this strategy by establishing a voluntary no-prop zone east of the mandatory zone.

Redfish Bay State Scientific Area

The second proposal begins protecting seagrass resources in the Redfish Bay area of the Coastal Bend. Redfish Bay is a prime fishing destination in the coastal bend and is perhaps the northern most site for extensive stands of turtlegrass and manatee grass. Many areas of Redfish Bay, principally in Estes Flats, have experienced extensive prop scarring.

Seagrass management strategies include:

In the absence of Commission reauthorization, both Scientific Areas would "sunset" five years after establishing the areas. Staff believes that these proposals will set in motion long-term strategies to enhance fishing, create new opportunities and preserve seagrass resources for all Texans.

II. Recommendation: Staff recommends the Regulations Committee adopt the following motion:

"The Conservation Committee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes staff to publish the proposal in the Texas Register for public comment."

Attachment - 1

1. Exhibit A – State Scientific Areas (Available Upon Request)


Committee Agenda Item No. 3
Presenter: Tim Hogsett

Conservation Committee
Action
TPRA Grants Rules
April 2000

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 7.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 4
Presenter: Bob Sweeney

Conservation Committee
Action
Statewide Aquatic Vegetation Management
Proposed Rules
April 2000

I. Discussion: In the 76th Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature passed HB 3079, which added a new subchapter G to chapter 11 of the Parks & Wildlife Code. HB 3079 addresses development of a statewide aquatic vegetation management plan.

To assist in the development of the statewide plan, staff has formed a stakeholder workgroup that includes representatives of TNRCC and TDA, as well as industry, environmental groups, and river authorities. This group has reviewed and commented on preliminary rule drafts prepared by staff.

The rules that staff seeks to publish in the Texas Register for public comment would adopt a statewide aquatic vegetation management plan that incorporates the requirements of the statute and protects and enhances aquatic resources. The statewide plan would require that measures undertaken to control nuisance aquatic vegetation be consistent with the principles of integrated pest management as described in a guidance document that staff will prepare and regularly update. The guidance document will encourage beneficial aquatic vegetation, prevention of nuisance aquatic vegetation, and public education. The statewide plan would also require, consistent with the statute, that public drinking water suppliers receive notice of proposed aquatic herbicide application. The proposed rules would permit governing entities of public bodies of surface water to adopt, subject to TNRCC, TDA, and TPWD approval, local plans that are at least as stringent as the state plan. The proposed rules would require that the Department receive notification of all proposed control measures for nuisance aquatic vegetation, and would give the Department an opportunity to amend, reject, or make recommendations regarding proposed control measures under the state plan.

II. Recommendation: The staff recommends the Conservation Committee adopt the following motion:

"The Conservation Committee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes staff to publish the proposed new subchapter K of chapter 57 of the Texas Administrative Code, relating to the statewide aquatic vegetation management plan, in the Texas Register for public comment."


Committee Agenda Item No. 5
Presenter: Robert L. Cook

Conservation Committee
Briefing
Nature-Based Lodging Economic and Environmental Feasibility Study
April 2000

I. Discussion: In February of 1999, Texas Parks and Wildlife issued a request for proposals for a feasibility study of lodge development on department properties. The intent of the study was to assess the environmental impacts of lodge development and the potential for revenue generation to both the department and the lodge operator.

A Letter of Agreement with Presidian, LC. was executed in May 1999 for completion of preliminary environmental impact and economic feasibility studies of twenty-four department sites. A Preliminary Analysis Report was received in August 1999. From the information provided in the report, six sites were selected for in-depth feasibility studies: Davis Mountains State Park, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Mustang Island State Park, Brazos Bend State Park, Guadalupe River State Park, and Caddo Lake State Park/Wildlife Management Area.

Presidian, LC. operates Canyon of the Eagles Lodge located on Lower Colorado River Authority property on Lake Buchanan. This 64-room lodge, conference center, dining facility and astronomical observatory serves as the prototype for lodge development in a setting similar to many Texas State Parks. Through the partnership between Presidian, LCRA and TPW, public resources and private funding have combined to develop a first class recreation destination with resource stewardship guiding the development and operation.

On a smaller scale, Lantana Ridge Lodge is currently under construction at Ray Roberts Lake State Park. If the project remains on schedule, the 30-room lodge should be open in May. Also included in the development are a restaurant, meeting facilities and gift shop.

The preliminary study on the six selected sites will be completed by early May 2000. Once received, TPW and Presidian will review the results and determine the next appropriate action.


Committee Agenda Item No. 6
Presenter: Kathryn Nichols

Conservation Committee
Action
Land Transfer – Bexar County (San Jose Mission)
April 2000

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 10.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 7
Presenter: Kathryn Nichols

Conservation Committee
Action
Land Acquisition – Burnet County
April 2000

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 11.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 8
Presenter: Robett Spain

Conservation Committee
Briefing
Grand Parkway – Fort Bend County
April 2000

I. Discussion: The proposed route of the Grand Parkway in Fort Bend County passes nearby Brazos Bend State Park. Parks and Wildlife (TPW) staff have been closely monitoring plans for the Parkway and the possible negative impacts to fish and wildlife resources, including terrestrial and aquatic, as well as, Department lands.

Although the route of the Parkway will not take it through Brazos Bend, TPW is concerned about secondary impacts to the park such as alterations to watersheds, impacts to water quality, wildlife mortality, light pollution, and ancillary development (accelerated urbanization of surrounding lands).

TPW has been monitoring planning and development of the Grand Parkway through the Environmental Impact Assessment process. The Grand Parkway Association, Texas Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highways Administration manage this process. The Army Corps of Engineers is involved through the wetland permitting process. TPW is making recommendations to these agencies to minimize impacts to natural resources. State Parks Division and Resource Protection Division staff have been working with the Grand Parkway Association and their consultants by identifying important natural resources, propose and evaluate alternative routes, and recommend appropriate mitigation that is in the best interest of the environment and the people of southeast Texas.

Currently, the Department is providing information to the Association on several segments of the Parkway, including the segment that passes near Brazos Bend State Park. Several routes are under evaluation in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is scheduled for release soon. Following the release of the EIS, there will be more meetings involving the Association, the public and state and federal resource agencies. TPW will be monitoring and commenting on these proposed routes as the planning process moves forward.


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