Conservation Committee

Wednesday, 9:00 a.m., August 28, 2002

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. Land and Water Conservation and Recreation Plan Resolution
Staff: Emily Armitano, Jeff Francell, Chris Beckcom
15
3. Nomination for Oil and Gas Lease – Harris County
Staff: Larry McKinney
16
4. Land Sale – Tarrant County
Staff: Jack Bauer
17
5. Land Sale – Harris County
Staff: Jack Bauer
17
6. Land Sale – Austin County
Staff: Jack Bauer
17
7. Land Acquisition – Cameron County
Staff: Jack Bauer
18
8. Land Acquisition – Smith County
Staff: Jack Bauer
18
9. Land Acquisition – Willacy County
Staff: Jack Bauer
18
10. Other Business  

Summary of Minutes
Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee
May 29, 2002

BE IT REMEMBERED that heretofore on the 29th day of May 2002, 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 10:20 a.m., to-wit:

I. COMMISSION ATTTENDANCE:

Katharine Armstrong Idsal, Chairman
Ernest Angelo, Jr.
John Avila, Jr.
Joseph Fitzsimons
Philip Montgomery, III
Donato D. Ramos
Kelly W. Rising, M.D.
Mark E. Watson, Jr.
Al Henry (absent)

II. APPROVAL OF MINUTES: The minutes of the last committee meeting were approved.
III. THE FOLLOWING ITEMS WERE PRESENTED FOR COMMITTEE ACTION:
1. BRIEFING – CHAIRMAN’S CHARGES

Presenter: Robert L. Cook

Mr. Cook briefed the Committee on the proposed revision to the Department’s mission statement, which adds the words “hunting” and “fishing.” The following met the approval of the Committee: “To manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Chairman Idsal noted that it is important we recognize fully the constituents that directly or indirectly provide nearly half of the Department’s revenues from hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.

Mr. Cook also discussed the Land and Water Conservation Plan status and schedule. The Ad Hoc Committee appointed by Chairman Idsal reviewed the first draft, making some good suggestions. It is currently on the TPWD Website and there will be eight public meetings around the State in order to receive public input. After another meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, the proposed Plan will be presented to the full Commission in August for adoption.

2. LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION PLAN UPDATE

Presenters: Jeff Francell and Emily Armitano

Jeff Francell briefed the Committee on the process for the Plan. The Legislature passed a bill requiring the Department to inventory all land and water associated with historical, natural, recreational and wildlife resources owned by governments and nonprofits offering public access. TPWD was also directed to analyze the State’s existing and future land and water conservation needs, identify threats and establish priorities. Master Planning personnel accomplished the inventory, gathering an incredible amount of data. The next steps were to analyze priorities for instream flow needs for Texas’ bays and estuaries; compile information about ecologically significant stream segments and waterways; and conduct a recreational analysis.

As part of the analysis, Mr. Francell pointed out that with 75% of the population living in a triangle including Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and the Valley, only 25% of the TPWD properties are located within 60 miles of the population centers. Out of 129 state parks, eleven pay for themselves on an operational basis; thirteen of the 52 wildlife management areas do the same. However, when administrative overhead and capital costs are added, none of them pay for themselves. Of the 20 most popular state parks, 80% are associated with a water feature.

The next step was to analyze all state and federal facilities to get an idea of the services they provide. The highest acres per capita turned out to be in the Corpus Christi area with 275 acres, and the lowest is the Wichita Falls area with less than two acres per capita. Houston has the highest available parkland available, but the lowest campsites per 100,000 people out of the major cities. Mr. Francell discussed how the hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails were analyzed in the same way. A conservation analysis by ecoregion was also accomplished, comparing land fragmentation data, population growth, biodiversity, land under wildlife management plans, and threats.

Historic sites were evaluated by ranking and categorizing them. Acton, Confederate Reunion Grounds, Lipantitlan and Starr Family Home ranked relatively low and sites such as the Battleship Texas and Hueco Tanks ranked high. The next analysis was on gaps in the system; historic time periods that were missing were listed.

Mr. Francell reviewed the four major conclusions from the Plan: To focus acquisition near growing urban centers; to support the continuation and implementation of the Department’s instream flow studies; to double the lands under wildlife management plans; and to work closely with the Texas Historical Commission on either divestiture or acquisition of historic sites.

3. STREAMBED TASK FORCE UPDATE

Presenters: Dr. Larry McKinney and Robert Sweeney

Dr. McKinney thanked the 25-person task force who held meetings in several areas of the state and worked hard to finalize the report, as well as the staff members involved (Bob Spain, Melissa Parker and Dr. Bill Harvey). The report is available in hard copy, a compact disc, or on the Department’s website.

Dr. McKinney summarized some of the work of the task force, starting with the “Use-versus-Abuse” issue. The topic of determining when use of a resource becomes abuse had been discussed, with various opinions. Access was also addressed, with all members of the task force wanting to support and promote access to the resources; however, some thought that motorized vehicles were not the right means. The most difficult issue addressed was access to public lands. One fact brought out is that Texas doesn’t have as many public lands as some of the western states.

User conflicts were another issue. Dr. McKinney stated that the way Texas determines separation between public and private properties in the state (the gradient boundary process where rivers and streams are navigable and therefore should be accessible to the public and are not), is extraordinarily confusing. He predicted there would be growing conflict as more resources are used by the public for access.

Dr. McKinney pointed out that the conclusions section of the report was done by staff and is not necessarily the consensus of the task force. Staff thought it important to lay out some basic issues, the first of which is the conclusion that no state agency presently has authority to regulate motorized vehicle users in Texas streambeds. Next, TPWD specialists have determined that these types of activities are ecologically harmful, impact the resources, and are not sustainable activities. Dr. McKinney said this is a conclusion also held by organized users and manufacturers who have prepared guidelines called “Tread Lightly.” These guidelines recognize that we need to minimize impacts to streams and rivers. A big part of the problem is that river access and venues for off-road vehicle recreation in Texas are largely inadequate. Actions to address this issue will need to consider those facts. Towards that end, two legislative committees have been looking at this issue. The Joint Interim Committee on Water held a public hearing during which they commended the work of the task force, saying it was a good stakeholder group that represented all the views. They requested that the work of the task force be extended to include developing some options for the interim committee to consider and an updated report for their next hearing, tentatively scheduled for June 12, 2002. Dr. McKinney also met with Representative Dan Ellis, who was appointed by Chairman Kuempel in the House Committee on Recreational Resources to head up a subcommittee on this issue. This subcommittee plans on holding a hearing or hearings on this topic in July and has asked staff to support them.

Bob Sweeney addressed the question of lack of authority in streambeds. In his opinion TPWD does not have specific authority to regulate motor vehicles in state-owned riverbeds, under the current facts. The General Land Office participated in the task force and it’s their opinion they do not have the regulatory authority either. Mr. Sweeney did advise that things might be different if there were greater evidence of resource destruction. The Committee discussed the February Legislative public hearing where several members of the task force testified and public testimony was taken, as well as the future meeting and the request for the task force to continue. Dr. McKinney said the task force would develop some possible options for the Legislature to consider if they were directed to do so.

Mr. Sweeney was asked what other states have done regarding this problem and he advised their actions fall into the following categories. In Kansas this practice is legal. The wetter states don’t have this problem--it’s just not practical to drive in the streambeds. Wisconsin and Missouri have banned the practice. Montana has enacted a comprehensive river-use law. They have a lot of provisions about how you can enjoy the rivers in Montana that address a lot of issues about river use and river access—but you can’t drive in the streambeds. Louisiana, like 33 other states, has a scenic rivers law, which allows for the creation of management plans. This is a mechanism whereby individual rivers could be protected or dealt with under a management plan that’s directed specifically for that water body. New Mexico and Arizona, however, take the approach that if there is demonstrated habitat destruction, motor vehicles can be banned in certain areas. Mr. Sweeney said the major point he wanted to make, however, was that states like Arizona and California have well-developed off-highway vehicle recreational programs. A division of their state park system develops and promotes them and a portion of the state gas tax, as well as federal gas tax revenues, funds them. This effectively moves that recreational use to a more appropriate place.

Mr. Sweeney also answered questions about whether the General Land Office would be the appropriate agency to regulate the riverbeds. He said the Legislature could dedicate the surface estate in riverbeds to the GLO, since they have already dedicated the mineral estate to them and given them authority to regulate and permit easement crossings, whereas TPWD has sand and gravel authority for state-owned riverbeds. Authority could be given to TxDOT, TPWD or DPS, however.

The Committee directed Dr. McKinney and staff to continue working with the task force and to formulate possible Legislative options.

4. NOMINATION FOR OIL AND GAS LEASE – JEFFERSON COUNTY

Presenter: Jack Bauer

Mr. Bauer briefed the Committee on how the General Land Office occasionally offers state lands with mineral rights to the public for nomination for oil and gas lease. The area currently nominated is the J. D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The Board for Lease for Parks and Wildlife Lands holds the authority to decide what the terms will be; however, they do take recommendations from the Commission.

The Murphree WMA, Jefferson County, is in far southeast Texas, south and east of Port Arthur. It consists of approximately 25,000 acres, primarily marshland, surrounded by other lands in conservation (McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge and Sea Rim State Park). Approximately 4700 acres of the Salt Bayou Unit, south of the Intercoastal Canal, are being nominated. This area (mostly pristine marsh) was leased when it was formerly a component of Sea Rim State Park in 1992, under the same conditions, which stipulate no on-site drilling. The well that was drilled at that time (not on TPWD property), was a dry hole and TPWD collected approximately $270,000 in revenues. TPWD owns 50 percent of the minerals with the remainder being retained by the McFaddin family.

The terms of this three-year lease would be $150 per acre cash bonus, 25 percent royalties and a $10 per acre delay rental. To guard against conditions that have occurred in the past such as impacts to the wetlands and impacts from saltwater intrusion into the marsh, the conditions specify no entry onto the property and require the operator to develop a surface-use agreement with TPWD. If minerals are discovered, extraction would not occur until after a plan of operation was formulated with TPWD which stipulated special consideration would be given for the protection of wetlands during the exploration and removal or extraction of minerals, both on TPWD and surrounding property.

Questions were raised about whether the McFaddins would put the same stipulations in their lease and Mr. Bauer stated that the nominator intends to get a similar lease with them. The item was placed on the agenda for the Thursday Commission meeting.

5. PRAIRIE DOG CONSERVATION PLAN

Presenters: John Herron and Paul Robertson

Mr. Herron introduced Paul Robertson, Head of the Wildlife Diversity Nongame and Rare Species Program, to brief the Committee on TPWD’s prairie dog conservation efforts, which he described as a sensitive issue with many landowners and conservationists in the state. Mr. Robertson stated that in March 1999, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the black-tailed prairie dog on the threatened species candidate list. This meant that based on the information available at that time, a listing was considered warranted but was precluded by higher priorities. This listing was in response to a petition and lawsuit by several conservation groups and was based on historical decline throughout the species range, indications of continued decline, and current threat levels.

A plan was needed to avoid a listing, to comply with the interstate effort and to recover the species. For the plan to be effective, states must show that their plans would secure the species in its remaining range. Lack of action or evidence of continued decline would likely lead to a federal listing after the annual review. In order to avoid the severe problems that would arise from a listing, an Interstate Committee was formed in 1999 with nine of the 11 states within the species’ range. All of the 11 states are holding stakeholder-working groups.

Mr. Robertson described the status of the prairie dog in its Texas’ range of 79 counties as being reduced by an estimated 95 percent, most of which occurred in the early part of the 20th century. The standard measure accepted by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is “acres of prairie dogs.” Texas’ statewide inventory, using remote sensing techniques and publicly available images, will be completed by the end of 2002. The working group, consisting of private landowners, ranching interests, other producers and groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation groups, has met 11 times since 1999. Their mission statement is: “To develop and initiate a statewide plan that will conserve the black-tailed prairie dog, while simultaneously protecting personal and private property rights.”

The group obtained a Section 6 planning grant in order to fund a State Coordinator to implement the plan. The final draft plan will be available later this summer and the State Coordinator should be hired by the end of the summer.

IV. ADJOURNMENT: The meeting adjourned at 11:15 a.m.


Committee Agenda Item No. 1

Conservation Committee
Chairman's Charges
August 2002

(This item will be an oral presentation.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 2
Presenters: Emily Armitano, Jeff Francell, Chris Beckcom

Conservation Committee
Land and Water Resources
Conservation and Recreation Plan Resolution
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 15.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 3
Presenter: Ronnie Ray

Conservation Committee
Nomination for Oil and Gas Lease
Harris County
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 16.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 4
Presenter: Jack Bauer

Conservation Committee
Land Sale – Tarrant County
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 17.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 5
Presenter: Jack Bauer

Conservation Committee
Land Sale – Harris County
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 17.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 6
Presenter: Jack Bauer

Conservation Committee
Land Sale – Austin County
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 17.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 7
Presenter: Jack Bauer

Conservation Committee
Land Acquisition – Cameron County
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 18.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 8
Presenter: Jack Bauer

Conservation Committee
Land Acquisition – Smith County
August 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 18.)


Committee Agenda Item No. 9
Presenter: Jack Bauer

Conservation Committee
Land Acquisition – Willacy County
May 2002

(This is Public Hearing Agenda Item No. 18.)


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