Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Outreach and Eduction Committee
Jan. 23, 2008Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 23rd day of January, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas, Committee Chairman
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Thank you. So the first order of business is the approval of the previous committee meeting minutes. May I have a motion to approve?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So move.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: What do I ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Say, "All" —
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: — moved by Friedkin and seconded by Bivins. So we're going to ‑‑
MR. COOK: Jump to Number 3 —
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: — jump to Number 3.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Oh, thank you. Look we're all in a hurry to get these ‑‑ everybody on the road, here. Do I have a motion for approval? Oh, I already have that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, you didn't say all in favor.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: All in favor, say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Opposed?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: None?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: None.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: All in ‑‑ I'm trying to get everybody on the road and not gathering ‑‑ so I apologize for that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No problem.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So let's move on to Number 3, the Texas Service Learning Project. Nancy Herron?
MS. HERRON: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Good to have you here.
MS. HERRON: Good morning, Commissioners and thank you again so much for your consideration for the students and their parents and grandparents in the audience.
My name is Nancy Herron, I'm the outdoor learning programs manager for our Department, and I have with me today Holly Hubenak who is a teacher, and several students from Coppell ISD, which is an independent school district near the Metroplex.
And together we're going to tell you a little bit about how Service Learning and Parks and Wildlife are encouraging students to work in habitat recreation and natural resources.
Parks and Wildlife works with schools in a variety of ways. We work with ‑‑ we provide teacher training such as Project Wild and Nature Trackers, providing activities for students to learn about natural resources.
We provide technical assistance for things like outdoor classrooms and school habitats. We provide support materials for their curriculum. We provide lesson plans and a teacher toolkit on our website, and we have a very exciting partnership with the Texas Center for Service Learning, that brings students outdoors.
So what is Service Learning? It's actually a volunteer program that's federally supported, it is under the Corporation for National and Community Service. It's actually a governmental program, and it is the umbrella that has the AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve, Senior Corps, this study you might have heard of, RSVP, all those kinds of programs.
Service Learning itself though is more than just a volunteer program. It's ‑‑ it provides meaningful community service; it's integrated into curriculum; it includes reflections by students, and it ‑‑ students demonstrate civic responsibility. The intent is to grow citizenship and strengthen communities, so let me explain very briefly.
For service to be meaningful, students must address real issues. They become problem solvers, and they work with a sponsoring community organization. For example, these students from Presidio learned about water issues in their community; possible solutions, and working with biologists embarked on a project to re-plant native vegetation along the Rio Grande.
For instruction and reflection, teachers become facilitators, guiding students through their curriculum requirements. Now, maybe not your children but if you've ever heard students moan, "Oh, why do we have to learn this," the point of Service Learning is that the students clearly understand the purpose in what they're learning, why they're learning, and how to apply it.
One aspect also that Service Learning offers is reflection. And by that we mean that students engage in critical and creative thinking throughout the project, and you're going to hear about that when the students come up. Basically they examine the whys of the service, the impacts of their actions to the community, and to themselves.
And lastly, Service Learning focuses on civic responsibility. Instead of filing in for a trash pickup, the students are involved in the selection of the projects, the design of the projects and implementation of the projects, every step of the way. They work with community representatives, and learn how to be part of the solution.
Youth boys resonates in Service Learning. Students are engaged, showing vision and leadership throughout. We have a three-year partnership with the Center for Service Learning. The Service Learning program provides grants to the school districts and we provide guidance in our mission, and when needed, access to local sites and technical advice.
We have 30,000 students across Texas who are working on major projects supporting the mission of Parks and Wildlife. So with that, I would like to introduce Holly Hubenak, a teacher with Coppell ISD, it's an exemplary Service Learning project in this state, and I'll tell you a little bit about what they did.
MS. HUBENAK: Okay. Just to give you a little bit of a background, we came together, a couple of teachers and a former assistant superintendent, and we got some students together and said, "You know, we want to have a nature park somewhere where students and the city can go out and look at nature and learn about it."
And so the students actually made all of the decisions about how the nature park would look, where it would be, all of the decisions. And so they had to work with the Park Board, the City Council; we've worked with master naturalists; and in fact, the park is now the training center for the North ‑‑ for Texas' Division of master naturalists. So we've worked with many partnerships within the city, and with the school district, and you'll hear from the students — I have actually watched two of the students grow from, they started in middle school and are now in high school, so they've made tremendous ‑‑ just stride in their ‑‑ leadership skills, and they're very invested in it, and have a real heart for service and working with the city. And so they understand how that works.
So I'm going to let Sid Nivas come up first. And he's going to ‑‑ they're going to give you a reflection of what they've learned.
MR. NIVAS: Thank you. Hi, I'm Siddhartha Nivas and I'm a junior at Coppell High School, and I first got introduced to this whole nature park from Ms. Hubenak in seventh grade because we were thinking about building a greenhouse at my middle school.
And this just fish-tailed into the whole Coppell Nature Park aspect. And the Coppell Nature Park has really influenced me both as an individual and someone as part of the community. And I still remember the first day I rode the bus around Coppell and looked at the four sites picked out for the nature park. But when we all arrived at the Wagon Wheel site we fell in love, because the creek down the middle easily complemented the indigenous trees, and the whole park was already cut out, and so it was a really easy stepping stone to just create this wonderful park.
And wildlife also wandered through the park, including coyotes, armadillos, birds and raccoons. And though we weren't able to see them when we first arrived, when the trails were paved, the wildlife just seemed to pop out at you.
The process of reaching this plan was very fine as the whole community was able to pitch in to make this effort a success. Many corporations around Coppell donated a lot of money, and time and effort, to help this become a success. And overall, the process has been tedious and, just the past few months we've put in the last boards of the observation deck. And the community's hard work has been paid off, and we now have something that we can show future generations.
My whole job in this process was the creation of the website, and the website is www.coppellnaturepark.org and it has up-to-date information on when we have our meetings, when we have our work days, the many articles in the Dallas and Coppell newspapers, and pictures of the work days.
And the website is a major tool and it helps communicate the word of the nature park, and it will also show other communities what we're doing and how they can start something in their own community. And the road to the completion of the nature park will never finish, but the many opportunities that I have received on the way there are the ones that I will cherish the most. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Very good presentation.
MS. FERGUSON: Hi, there. I'm Tara Ferguson, I'm a sophomore at Coppell High School, and ever since the beginning I've been involved with the nature park. For me that was in seventh grade, or three and a half years ago, and at first the nature park was just a way for me to get some community service and, you know, have something to look good on my college application. But soon it turned into something more than that.
I was on the four initial committees when we were selecting the site, selecting the features we wanted for the park, how we were going to market the site and ways to raise funds.
I created the rules to the park with the help of a former teacher, and created the signage for those rules. I traveled to Philadelphia with a group of students and teachers and talked about the park and Service Learning. And I've made multiple presentations about the park to the park boards, city boards and other associations in our community.
Through these three and a half years, I've made a lot of friends, I've traveled many places, and had a lot of good experiences. But the thing I've enjoyed most is really being at the park, because there's nothing greater than sitting in the midst of something your hands have created which is literally for me, since I've participated in multiple work days at the park.
So recently my family and I had our family portraits taken at the park. And that was just really special for us, because in some way each person in my family has been involved with the park. That's why it's so exciting that we have such a place in Coppell.
In the end, it wasn't about me having a nice college application, or gaining some speaking skills. It was about our community having a family and education-oriented place that everyone can go to for the next 50, 100 years. That's what it was all about in the end. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MS. BIZZELL: Hello, I'm Michelle Bizzell and I'm in the eighth grade at Coppell Middle School West. As John F. Kennedy once said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." Leadership and problem-solving skills both rely heavily on applied knowledge. When I volunteered at the Coppell Nature Park, I had to apply much of what I had learned in the classroom.
I identified plants and trees using knowledge my previous teachers had taught me. Problem solving is a very useful skill to have, especially if you plan to get anywhere in life. When at the Coppell Nature Park, I had to use many different problem-solving strategies to solve some of the obstacles I faced, including a wrong turn and a bout of poison ivy.
When you run into a problem in the group, someone needs to take the position of the leader, or else everyone will disagree and you'll never find a solution. At the nature park, problems were simple to solve, but they were almost a miniature of bigger, real-life problems that you would use the same strategies to solve.
By volunteering at the Coppell Nature Park I learned much about real-life knowledge problem solving and leadership.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MS. MASON: Hi, I'm Carolyn Mason, an eighth grader at Coppell Middle School West. Local governments establish rule and regularity in the community, but civic responsibility is what really runs a society.
The nature park is a great way to help out in the community, and exhibit civic responsibility. All of the volunteers in Coppell Nature Park have worked hard to make the park a functional and a nice place to visit. The park has become more than just a part of the community, but part of the lives of the people who helped create it.
Every time I visit the park I feel a sense of pride in what I and all of the volunteers have done. For me, the park is more than just a cool place to visit. It is special. I get excited about taking family and friends to the park, because I can share with them all of the memories of placing signs under the pine trees, and even about treating poison ivy.
Another exciting thing about the park is how professional it all looks. We didn't just make a mediocre park, but one with professional signs, dedicated benches and even a deck. But even with all these professional items, the park is still an interesting place to visit and learn about the native plants, and get away from all the normal-life city hustle and bustle. The nature park is really special for me.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MS. HAIR: Hello, my name is Emma Hair and I am also an eighth grader at Coppell Middle School West. And I have to admit that at first I only wanted to help with the nature park because I needed some community service hours for National Junior Honor Society.
But as soon as I got there, my entire outlook on the project changed. It wasn't just about service hours anymore, it was about making the park a great place for both adults and children to bond and appreciate the natural beauty of the property.
When helping out at the Coppell Nature Park, I participated in tree identification, placing signs, and as Michelle and Carolyn have already mentioned, treating and identifying poison ivy.
Although placing the signs next to a stick in the ground sounds like a simple task, think again. Well, okay, at first it was easy but as we continued down the twists and turns of the trails in search of pink flagposts, we had to brave raging rivers, fight tangles of vines, and stumble over tree roots that purposely tripped you.
Okay, so the raging river was a bubbling brook, but my point is, that you really had to use your wilderness skills out there. Which was a nice break from the constant buzz of the television, computer and phones you get at home.
Even after all of that, we still couldn't find some of the posts, so we had to go tree-hunting, which is like a treasure hunt except much harder. But it was all worth it, because now when I go to the nature park I know all the work and time that was put into making it successful. And I think about all the adults and children who will go there and learn something that they might not have learned if there hadn't been such a place.
Another good thing about the park is, it's constantly growing and changing; it won't ever look the same twice. So you can go again and again without getting tired of going. Overall, the Coppell Nature Park may have started out as a chunk of land that wasn't being used for anything except the creation of oxygen. But now it's a gorgeous park that is both rewarding and fun to visit. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
MS. HERRON: And thanks to all the students. We'd be happy to answer any questions that you have about Service Learning or the project.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: When you say 30,000 students across Texas supporting the mission and all through this Service Learning partnership?
MS. HERRON: Yes. That's specific to that project.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And you see that growing? I mean, how do you ‑‑ it's through a grant process, right? With federal help? To the schools.
MS. HERRON: That's correct. It's a three-year project with the Texas Center for Service Learning. We're in year two of that particular project ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MS. HERRON: — so, there will be next year as well. And the other thing that is good to know is that, Service Learning, even if they don't get a grant, the schools may still participate in Service Learning and still work with us. So this doesn't actually represent all of those. There are people from the past who have, but through this current grant cycle, those are the folks that are getting grants and actively working that we know are working right now.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is the focus primarily urban, or throughout the state?
MS. HERRON: They're throughout the state. And I do have the director from the program here if you have any ‑‑ if you'd like to hear more detail. But it is throughout the state. There's 54 school districts right now that are using it, that are getting grants.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Do the school districts come to you? How do you ‑‑ I mean, how do you get the word out across the state ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's a good question ‑‑
MS. HERRON: May I have John address that? Would that be all right? This is Mr. John Spence, who's director of the Texas Center for Service Learning, and I think he can briefly address that.
MR. SPENCE: We are a statewide initiative of Region 14 Education Service Center in Abilene and the Texas Education Agency. So we communicate about Service Learning grant opportunities, about Service Learning resources, to our education service centers throughout the state, the 20 education service centers directly through participating school districts, to school districts that have had grants with us in the past, and a lot of our mission is about supporting not only those sites that receive federal funding for Service Learning, but helping teachers and school districts recognize that Service Learning is an instructional practice that can be implemented with a whole variety of resources, both federal, state and local.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: And they can ‑‑ private schools, or does it have to be public schools, or ‑‑
MR. SPENCE: The grant program focuses on public schools that were restricted to that because of the nature of the statute. However, private schools are encouraged to partner with public schools, and we do have some of those partnerships in place. At the same time, some of the other initiatives that we host through the Texas Center for Service Learning allow for private schools to receive some funding.
So we're always looking for new opportunities to support the concept, which we believe really helps students develop the leadership skills that you saw demonstrated here today. And at the same time improve their academic skills and learn the value of active citizenship.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What was the total time window from inception of the project to completion?
MR. SPENCE: We're right now in the middle of a three-year grant cycle from the Corporation for National Community Service, the Learn and Serve America Grant program. We have had association with Nancy and her wonderful staff in the past; we fully anticipate this will continue. One of the performance measures that we built into our grant was improving environmental stewardship of Texas natural resources.
Historically, most of our Learn and Serve America programs have had a preponderance of environmental projects. These projects are a natural fit in so many ways, because kids are exposed to their direct environment; they can do hands-on learning; it can be done close by in schoolyard habitats or the ‑‑ through grander projects like the Coppell Nature Park.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: But on the specific Coppell Nature project, what was the ‑‑ time lapse on that from beginning to end?
MR. SPENCE: Four years ago is when they started. They had a previous grant with us through the ‑‑ prior three-year grant cycle. The students were interested in the project at that time, it happened to coincide with the district being awarded the grant, so they've had about four years to this point ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay, thank you.
MR. SPENCE: — to develop this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So it overlapped then from another grant, I guess, and ‑‑
MR. SPENCE: They're ‑‑ they were awarded another Learn and Serve America grant in the current grant cycle. Prior applicants have been eligible to apply and we expect that to be the case in the future.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Has the participation grown over the last few years of this particular program or project?
MR. SPENCE: It has. There is widespread interest in Service Learning, with a very small staff of four and the responsibilities of meeting the needs of these grantees as well as doing Service Learning in a state the size of Texas, we've ‑‑ we're making progress. But we do find there is more and more interest in it.
One of the challenges that I think school districts face when they look at Service Learning ‑‑ everybody agrees it's a wonderful program. It's, how do we make it more of a priority, because of the pressures faced by accountability, or in school districts, the pressures with the TAKS test, the pressures with federal programs.
So it's really contingent on us to continue to demonstrate that these are projects that really involve students in active learning, not just in service or field trips or getting outside. These are ways that kids can really invigorate their learning, as well as develop into the kind of citizens we want to see.
MR. COOK: Commissioners, I just want to, first of all of course, you all have met Nancy before and know what a great employee she is for the Agency, and these folks back here, these teachers and leaders that take their time and the extra time and extra effort, and especially to these kids, who have done this program.
It's important for you, I think, to know that we are involved in these programs, participate in these type of programs, coming from a lot of different directions, and trying to help people get involved in the outdoors, to make a difference in the outdoors, and in many cases, as some of these young folks have said, make a difference in their lives.
And so we wanted you to know about some of these programs; you'll hear some more this afternoon. We appreciate you, sir, very much. Thank you for your help.
MS. HERRON: Thank you again for not only making these students very happy but keeping them safe so they can get back on the road. I appreciate that very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Nancy.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Also I'd like to congratulate and thank all the students that braved this blustery weather to come over here and to give their presentation. And thank you for participating in such a life-enriching program, and we wish you the best in continuing it.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: If no further discussion on this, at this point I'd like to recess this Committee, and hand the gavel back over to Conservation with Chairman Bivins.
(Whereupon, at 12:45 p.m. a recess was taken, to reconvene at 2:26 p.m.)
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: We will reconvene the Outreach and Education Committee. Let's go ahead and begin with Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan. I think Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: Thank you very much. We've got three or four items here I want to touch with you on. Texas ended the year 2007 with 29 hunting accidents, which tied with the lowest number on record. This I believe underscores both the success of our mandatory hunter education program, and the need to continue the effort to produce even less incidents. The majority of the shooters involved in these 29 mishaps had not ever taken the training. But as a greater majority of our hunters become certified, take the training, we believe that hunting accident trends will continue to decline.
On another item, the third, Archery in Schools, a statewide competition will be held March 28th, at the Mayborn Convention Center in Temple, Texas. Approximately 800 school children will compete in the tournament beginning at 8:00 a.m. that Friday. Awards will be presented about 3:00 p.m., and of course all Commissioners and Executive Staff and folks within the Department are invited to attend.
In our Neighborhood Fishing Program, marketing staff is working closely with Inland Fisheries, developing the Urban Neighborhood Fishing Program. Thanks to funds donated through the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, the program will be re-branded and expanded into new areas. A marketing strategy is being developed to increase participation.
We touched on this this morning, but the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation is providing a $25,000 grant that we will match, to fund a direct mail test, targeting freshwater and saltwater lapsed anglers. Folks, what we're seeing is that from a national level, that only about 15 percent of all anglers buy a license every year. So there's a lot of folks who fish, and who enjoy fishing but they don't necessarily buy their license and fish every year.
And by targeting a specific ‑‑ you know, those people who we have on record as recently having bought licenses, targeting them, we think we can generate license sales from a year to the next, far beyond the cost of ‑‑ the mail and the analysis of that test.
Our winter boat shows are in full swing, and the Department is in its second year promoting Nobody's Waterproof, a statewide boating safety campaign that is aimed at the target audience, males age 18 to 37, who operate runabouts and personal watercraft in inland waters.
The effort involves extensive communications, law enforcement, marketing and education and outreach strategies. The Communications Division is currently soliciting for sponsors to underwrite this coming summer's activities on high use lakes near the major metropolitan areas. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Any discussion?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Being none, we will continue to Committee Item Number 2, the Texas Nature Tracker Program. Ms. Marsha May.
MS. MAY: Good afternoon Madam Chair and Committee Members. My name is Marsha May. I'm a program specialist with the Wildlife Diversity Program, and I would like to present to you information on our Texas Nature Tracker Program.
And first, I want to give you a little bit of background information. In the early 1990s, Congress ordered U.S. Fish and Wildlife to monitor rare species in North America, across the country, to ensure their survival.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife in turn came to Texas Parks and Wildlife and said, What can we do, how can we monitor all these species with the limited number of biologists that we have in the state? So why not ask our citizens to get involved? We have plenty ‑‑ many citizens who would enjoy getting out there and monitoring these rare species.
So that's where Texas Nature Trackers began. And ‑‑ let's see. And other information here is, with the State Wildlife Grants, Congress charged each state with developing a Wildlife Action Plan. And so Texas Parks and Wildlife developed the Texas Wildlife Action Plan, and one of the requirements in that action plan is to be able to create the priority species list, with a high, medium and low rank; and these species need to be monitored.
So monitoring of these species is an important part of the plan, as essential to know, you know, conservation goals are being met. And that's where Nature Trackers comes in.
Several thousand Texans have participated in Texas Nature Tracker projects. And they play an important role in ‑‑ by assisting state biologists in monitoring many of these priority species. Data that is gathered by citizens have been used for environmental review, for status updates, management, and management recommendations.
Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists determine the monitoring protocol that goes into each one of these projects. This is from our brochure that shows all of our projects. And then they collect ‑‑ they in turn collect the results from the volunteer data. And I ‑‑ each one of you has a copy of our newsletter. Every year we put together, compile this newsletter, and send it out to all of our volunteers and people who are interested in our program.
And we have a database currently that has 1,900 people in it. We've had more, but as, you know, as addresses kind of fall to the wayside, I pull them out, and so we currently have 1,900, and I had none returned. So that was pretty good.
So anyway, on to the next. First I'll start off with Texas Horned Lizard Watch. Texas horned lizards are a very special animal to Texas citizens. It is our state lizard. How to get involved in Texas Horned Lizard Watch, we have a monitoring packet that citizens can use. All of the information that they need in order to monitor these critters is in this monitoring packet. And there are three ways they can get involved.
You know, be a spotter, or adopt a habitat, or actually do transects. Horned Lizard Watch has been around for ten years, and we've had 186 volunteers submit data. Now, more volunteers have been involved, but that's the number that have actually submitted data. The hardest part is actually getting people to turn in their data. So I kind of want to clarify that a little bit.
And 270 sites have been adopted, and data has been gathered in 165 counties, and they've been reported in 146 of those counties. So they're actually more widespread than what we thought.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
MS. MAY: So that's good. Amphibian Watch. Amphibians in North America, actually globally, are in decline. And so that's ‑‑ this is an important project for Texas, is to find out what's going on with our frogs and toads in Texas. And it ‑‑ Amphibian Watch concentrates mainly on frogs and toads but we do have some volunteers, special volunteers out there looking at some of our spring-fed ‑‑ our spring-dwelling salamanders.
And also, as with the other project, Amphibian Watch has a monitoring packet where folks can just pick up the monitoring packet and they can monitor on their own if they want to; and there's three ways to get involved, as before: spotter, adopt a frog pond, and then frog and toad surveys. Or ‑‑ and they can also have opportunities to go through our workshops, where they can get more of a hands on learning experience.
Amphibian Watch has been around a while; we've had thousands participate in our classes. We've had classes and workshops. People are very interested in amphibians. Sixty volunteers have submitted data; data has been recorded in 86 counties, and 111 sites have been adopted for monitoring. Data is collected in 41 of our 42 species; we're still missing data on our spotted chirping frog in West Texas.
And a highlight of the program is that the volunteers have actually detected an expansion of the Rio Grande chirping frog throughout the state. It's moving through the nursery trade from South Texas.
And so Texas Amphibian Watch is reaching more Texas citizens, also through partnerships with Texas master naturalist chapters, and with nature centers. And in 2008 we have a partnership, collaboration with Texas zoos and aquaria, because this is the Year of the Frog. So we're going to actually be doing quite a bit with amphibians this year.
Texas Mussel Watch. Many people don't even know that these critters actually exist in our rivers and streams, and I think they are very important organisms. They are the most imperiled group of organisms in all of North America. And there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on these animals. And their biology is absolutely amazing, but that's a whole workshop, so I can't go into that right now.
With Texas Mussel Watch, our volunteers must complete a six to eight-hour workshop in order to become a Mussel Watch volunteer. And then they ‑‑ we have more than 200 volunteers who have participated in the workshops, it takes a special person to be a Texas Mussel Watch volunteer, because you actually have to get into the creeks in order to look for these inconspicuous bivalves, and ‑‑ but our volunteers have logged over 1,000 hours of monitoring, and covered over 150 sites in 18 Texas rivers ‑‑ there is 27, I think, Texas river systems in Texas, in 53 counties, and recorded the presence of 39 of those 52 species of mussels.
The highlights is ‑‑ we found the Golden Orb alive in the San Marcos River, and also we found seven live Texas Fawn's Foot, in the Brazos River. And those were new findings, so that was very exciting.
Texas Mussel Watch is also reaching out to more citizens, through partnership with the master naturalist chapter and nature centers.
Blacktail Prairie Dog Watch. This is a fairly new watch program. The blacktail prairie dog is ‑‑ a very important keystone species up in the Panhandle in West Texas. It provides food and shelter for as many as 170 other animals. So it's a very important keystone species. Blacktail prairie dog colonies currently occupy less than 1 percent ‑‑ or 1 percent, yes, less than 1 percent of their historic range.
So this is the monitoring packet that we developed for prairie dogs. It's set up the same way as the Horned Lizard and Amphibian, with three ways to monitor, being a spotter or adopt a colony, or actually a density study, which was ‑‑ we've used a study done at Texas Tech to develop this particular monitoring program.
And with prairie dogs, the one thing interesting about this monitoring packet was, they ‑‑ the Texas chapter of the Wildlife Society gave an award; it won the Outstanding Technical Publication, through the Texas chapter of the Wildlife Society, and our biologists up in the Panhandle use it as an educational tool for landowners up in the Panhandle. So I'm excited about that.
Now, box turtles. Box turtles are thought to be in decline, so we needed to find out what's going on with these box turtles. This started just a few years ago; we put a form on the Internet and people can actually go online and enter their data online, which helps quite a bit.
But Texas Parks and Wildlife Department initiated this statewide survey in 2005, asking Department Staff and citizens statewide to record and send in any box turtle sightings. So within the first year we had 574 sightings, 271 Eastern box turtles, 272 ornate box turtles, and 31 were, they didn't record the species. And in 52 counties they reported the Eastern box, and in 72 the ornate. And interestingly enough, females of both species were most often encountered.
In the second year, it looks as though the reports are down by 10 percent, but this third year they're actually still coming in, so it's kind of difficult to say what's happening. But it's ‑‑ it helps to have the online form, and I think people are ‑‑ it's easier to enter your data online than it is to try to mail it in or whatever.
So Texas citizens have played a very important role in collecting this data.
Hummingbird — Texas Hummingbird Round-Up. Hummingbirds are the jewels of the bird world. But Hummingbird Round-Up, it's really one of our older watch programs; it's been around for a while. Thousands have participated in this program. We've had ‑‑ in 2006 there were 347 participants in 106 counties, and 15 out of our 18 species have ‑‑ were recorded.
Texas Monarch Watch. Even though monarchs are not listed in the action plan, they are a very important organism to Texas citizens, especially schools. They use them a lot when they talk about migration and so forth. They're a very important critter. And so how do participate with Monarch Watch is, there's a Monarch ‑‑ this packet that can downloaded off of the Internet or it can be mailed out to them, and it has all the information that they need in order to monitor Monarchs.
There are monarch-like butterflies that are listed in this packet so people can tell the difference between the viceroy and the queen and ‑‑ there's another one; I can't think of it, but there's, that mimic the monarch, that look quite like the monarch, but ‑‑ and this will help them figure out, you know, what they're looking at; if it's a monarch or not.
But what's amazing about Texas is, millions of monarchs pass through Texas every year, and it's a real important part of their migration path. And 1,297 volunteers have participated in this program. And like I said, it's very important for schoolrooms.
So, Texas Nature Trackers is also ‑‑ provides opportunities for advanced training from master naturalists. They have to have so many hours of advanced training and so many hours of volunteer service, and our watch programs provide that. So we work very closely with the master naturalists.
Texas Nature Trackers projects play an important role in educating the public about the importance of these species and their habitats in their local communities. We look forward to developing new projects in the future, and information about all of these projects can be found on our website. Thank you very much. Do you have any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do you see it as a growing program? I mean, can you get more and more people interested?
MS. MAY: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Do you outreach to the schools, I mean, how do you find people?
MS. MAY: Well, we work closely with the master naturalist chapters, and there's plenty of those around. And like I said earlier with the ‑‑ partnering with the chapters, they're actually promoting these projects within their own local communities. So we're training them to be trainers. So we're able to ‑‑ well, especially with Amphibian Watch and Mussel Watch. Some of the other projects are just ‑‑ people just download them off of the Internet. Like the Horned Lizard Watch and the Monarch Watch, and ‑‑ they just, and do it on their own.
But the Amphibian Watch and Mussel Watch and Hummingbird Round-Up Mark Klym travels all over the state promoting Hummingbird Round-Up, and ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I guess what I'm asking, are you using this at all to outreach to younger people, either through the schools, or ‑‑
MS. MAY: Yes, we are. Yes, and we have ‑‑ we work with teachers especially.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good, okay.
MS. MAY: So through teachers we get through to a lot of ‑‑ and we are also, as you noticed in the earlier Service Learning presentation, we work with those teachers also, so ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, good.
MS. MAY: ‑‑ we're part of that program.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Any other comments?
MS. MAY: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Ms. May, thank you very much.
MS. MAY: Thank you so much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I found it informative, thank you.
MS. MAY: Yes. Enjoy your reading.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Thank you. Coming to Committee Item Number 3 we already participated in it, and now Committee Item Number 4, the Texas Buffalo Soldiers 2008 and Beyond has been withdrawn. Committee Item Number 5, the Texas Brigades Program. Ms. Linda Campbell.
MS. CAMPBELL: Good afternoon, Commissioners. I'm Linda Campbell and I'm the Wildlife Division Program Director for Private Lands and Public Hunting. With me today is Helen Holdsworth. She is the executive director of the Texas Brigades Leadership Program. And we are here today to brief you on the Texas Brigades, which is a partnership between the Department, the Texas Wildlife Association, and others focused on youth conservation, education and leadership development.
We really think that this program is making a real difference, in producing future conservation leaders and supporters. And so I ‑‑ now I'd like to turn it over to Helen, who will give you a brief presentation, and then we'd like to show you a video that was produced by TPWD's Karen Loke, that I think you'll really enjoy as well.
MS. HOLDSWORTH: Thank you, Linda. Chairman, members of the Commission, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to visit with you about the Texas Brigades. The Texas Brigades are a leadership development program for youth focusing on wildlife and natural resources in Texas.
Our philosophy is that most youth do not have the opportunity to get an in-depth education about Texas' own wildlife and natural resources, and if we expect our resources to be cared for in the future, we ‑‑ and I'm referring to all people who care about these things, have a responsibility to provide that opportunity for that education.
Our experience is, for youth with a desire to advance their leadership and life skills, and become conservation ambassadors. Their goal is to obtain the knowledge and develop the skills to be well-informed citizens involved in the process. It's not just five days in summer camp and go home. It's five days of work, and go home and work some more. And these young people thrive on the challenge, and we provide incentives for them to go out and do these educational programs once they've returned home from the program. And we'll talk a little bit more about that in a second.
The program was established in 1993 by Dr. Dale Rollins, who's a wildlife specialist with what is now the Agri-Life Extension Service, with one Bobwhite Brigade. We now have six camps; we have two Bobwhite Brigades, two Buckskin Brigade, Feathered Forces which is quail and turkey, and the Bass Brigade.
This program has also been cloned in five states; we've had other states come to Texas to study our program, the most recent one being Pennsylvania, which had their first Buckskin-like Brigade camp last summer, it's been very successful for them.
These numbers here, just to give you an example of what these young people do once they return home, they're out giving presentations, assisting biologists, working in their communities, to spread the word about the importance of conservation and habitat management for all species.
The one extraordinary ‑‑ one of the extraordinary things about the program is the volunteers. We have volunteers from the private sector, some who take their annual vacation for a week to come and work at the Brigades.
Various agency employees including many Parks and Wildlife employees have incorporated this into their work; no one has told them, "You have to go do this." They're doing that because they feel it's important to reach these young people, and many of them will tell me they're involved with Brigades because they want to give back; they want to help mentor these kids to help them develop these leadership and life skills that they're going to need in the future.
Two years ago, we developed an advanced leadership program which we called WILD, and this provides those young people who've been through our program and are ‑‑ and very high achieving and really interested in this ‑‑ wildlife as a profession, possibly, the opportunity to study current issues that are being discussed right now, and also look at how policy is formed, to further advance their life and leadership skills.
The Brigades is an independent nonprofit. We operate with our own 501(c)(3), our own board of directors and officers; we have two part-time staff people that are employed year-round, as well as five to six summer employees. Everything else is volunteer. All the cooks, the instructors, the adult leaders.
We've been fortunate to have foundations, businesses and individuals financially support the program; but we could not put this program on without two very important contributions. One are the private ranches where we have these camps; they donate the use of their facilities, and these are, you know, basically for-profit ranches that are in the hunting business and have the facilities that we can do that. Because we wouldn't be able to afford to have 60 people for a week at places like 74 Ranch and La Bandera.
But more importantly is the support of the agencies and the universities and the nonprofits like Texas Parks and Wildlife. And I always have to ask, when I give a presentation about the Brigades ‑‑ tell people how they can help us. Because we are as I said a nonprofit so it's not like we have a big advertising budget. And it's word of mouth that is our most effective means of advertising.
And so I ask for your help in recruiting participants. Kids, grandkids, friends' kids. Anybody that you can tell that have kids that are interested in wildlife and the outdoors. We also could always use volunteers. So if anybody wants to come and give some time we'd be glad to have you, and have you involved.
We are currently taking applications for this summer. All of our applications are due April 1st, and we hope to have six camps with about 180 kids on the ground by June 15th is our first camp, so 140 days away.
MS. CAMPBELL: I'd like to ask Mark now if he could roll that video for us. Thank you.
MS. HUNT: Just in closing, I'd like to compliment Lydia and her crew for coming out and doing the story. They ‑‑ the crew stayed the whole time, they had to work the same hours as the kids, and in 100 hours of camp, you can expect to get about 15 hours of sleep. So they were put through their paces pretty good, too.
MS. CAMPBELL: And that's all we have for you, Commissioners. If there's any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Thank you. It was great. No action required, there was plenty of action on the ‑‑ from that video. This Committee has completed its business for today, and so we'll move on to the Regulations Committee with Chairman Friedkin.
(Whereupon, at 2:50 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Outreach and Education Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: January 23, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 39, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731