Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting

August 26, 2009

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting
Cactus Room
Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall
Will Rogers Memorial Center
Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 26th day of August, 2009, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Cactus Room of the Will Rogers Memorial Center, to wit:

APPEARANCES:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:

P R O C E E D I N G S

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Chairman Bivins, please call your committee to order.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The first order of business is the approval of the previous committee meeting minutes which have been distributed. Can I have a motion for their approval?

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So moved.

COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: A motion by Martin and a second by Hixon. All those in favor say aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All opposed, same sign.

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, the motion carries. Committee Item Number 1, update on TPW progress in implementing the TPW Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan, Carter Smith.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, thank you. Just a couple of things as we finish up this part. One, Scott and Ted and Jennie Munoz have really done a masterful job of internally and externally on leading the update of the Land and Water Plan. I know that we have a retreat planned for the Commission in October that Chairman Holt has graciously agreed to host for you at the Prade Ranch, and so there will be more discussion about it there.

But the public meetings are going well. We are getting a lot of good input from the public on it, and I just want to thank Scott and his team for their work on that front. Tomorrow, you are going to hear Robin Riechers talk about some of the oyster restoration work that we have been doing there in Galveston Bay. I think all of you recall just how damaged that habitat type was after Hurricane Ike. We lost approximately 8,000 acres of consolidated oyster reef and had a lot of habitat damage in the bay.

And so Lance Robinson and our Coastal Fisheries team working with Mike and Robin and others have been very actively pursuing grants to help us with habitat restoration, recently in partnership with GLO secured a $5 million NOAA grant to help with marsh restoration and wetland restoration near Galveston Island State Park, in Jubilee Cove. So there is a lot of that going on right now, and I really appreciate their efforts in doing what they can to help restore the bay.

Kind of moving to the terrestrial side, an item that I think may be of interest, particularly to those of you familiar with species concerns in South Texas. We have been long concerned about the state of the ocelot down in the Rio Grande Valley. Really only have two disjunct populations left that we know of, comprising 50 to 75 individuals. We are getting very concerned about the genetic status of ocelots.

And so there is a plan being put in place to potentially translocate ocelots from Northern Mexico into South Texas to help with the genetic fitness of that population. And our staff mammalogist, John Young, with the Wildlife Division is leading that effort, in concert with Mexico fish and wildlife agencies and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So pretty interesting development on that front, and we are hopeful that will come to fruition. Last thing that I will just mention is a development that Scott and Walt and the team have been working on, that they have just formalized with the National Audubon Society at Sheldon Lake. And I think all of you are familiar, at least most of you are familiar with the efforts to help improve the environmental education and outreach and visitation at that park, in and around the Houston area. That was a real passion of former Commissioner Al Henry. The National Audubon Society has been interested in having these focus visitor centers at different places around the country, near urban areas. And so we have launched a project with them, in which they have committed to raising $6-1/4 million to help build another environmental learning center, classroom, laboratories, and offices there at Sheldon Lake. So it is a wonderful achievement.

Scott in particular has worked very hard on that, with the National Audubon Society. And we look forward to sharing more with you about that, as we go forward, and help them with that fund-raising campaign, which will be a great asset to that park. So with that, Mr. Chairman, I think I will conclude my remarks. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Carter. I would like to ask, if possible, I think it would benefit the entire Commission if we at our next meeting, could perhaps see some photographs referring to the coastal damage done by Ike and the current status of that area.

MR. SMITH: Sure. We would be happy to do that. We can do some time-lapse photography and show it. I think Scott had given a presentation, almost a year ago, showing a lot of the damage.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right. Exactly.

MR. SMITH: And maybe looking at it now, and some of the efforts. So Mike and Lance and Robin, we can put that together, and do that in November.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Give us a good idea, since not all of us get down there that often.

MR. SMITH: Okay. Yes. Good idea.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you very much. Committee Item Number 2, Land Acquisition in Hardin County, approximately 1500 Acres at Village Creek State Park. Permission to Begin the Public Notice and Input Process.

Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. Good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I am with the Land Conservation Program. This first item is the first reading of a recommendation to acquire land that would more than double the size of Village Creek State Park. Village Creek State Park in located in the southeast corner of the state, on Village Creek. Village Creek may be the largest remaining stream in Southeast Texas that is completely unimpeded by dams.

You can see the location of Village Creek here. Very near Lumberton, just a little north of Beaumont, Texas. The tract in question is outlined in yellow. It is labeled Hancock Tract. Staff identified that as a high priority acquisition, even before the park was opened 15 years ago. The other high value tract is that one labeled Big Thicket 900 acres. The Feds were able to acquire that tract several years ago.

The Hancock tract has been in timber production, at least the upland portions of it. We have stayed in touch with Hancock, and with the previous owner. I believe it was maybe IP. We have stayed in contact with them for many years, trying to figure out how to bring the resources to the table to acquire that. We have been working with Conservation Fund.

Conservation Fund has managed to put together several resources, including a couple of federal grants and some compensatory mitigation monies from pipeline installations in the region. They are within a few hundred thousand dollars of having that tract paid for. They have bought the tract. They have picked up the balance of it out of their conservation, out of their rotating fund. And have offered to sell us the tract at the balance due, which amounts to about $400 an acre. The tract has just been appraised at $1,700 an acre.

Staff recommends acquiring the entire tract. The portions you can see that have been cut are upland portions. They were historically longleaf pine. Those tracts and about a 40, 50-acre tract in the state park are the only longleaf pine habitat in the state park system. Staff feels like those would restore readily into longleaf pine. The rest of it, or the most of the rest of it is bottomland forest.

You can see it gives us some additional frontage on Village Creek. Again, just a very high priority site. It would increase the size of the park almost time and a half again. Most of the tract is paid for now, the little 30-acre tract that is east of Village Creek would be conveyed to the National Park Service to be included in the Big Thicket Preserve, since we can't really get to it, to manage it.

We think it is an outstanding example of what happens when we can work together with some of our non-profit partners for tracts that are of obvious high conservation and recreation value. We think it is a terrific acquisition and would like to request permission to begin the public input process. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: The 30 acres that I see is on the east side of the creek.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is it your judgment that we should convey that to the Feds? And if it is, should we not have some, something in the conveyance that has got restrictions and a reverter so that it comes back to us if the use is changed or things of that nature? I am curious why —

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: The property would not be conveyed from us to the Feds. It would be conveyed by Conservation Fund. They currently hold title to the property. We can certainly look into that. It is — although it is a stone's throw across the creek, it is probably an hour drive around to get to that. It is really not practical for us to manage it. It is within the acquisition footprint for the Big Thicket Preserve, and would be managed as part of the Big Thicket Preserve.

MR. SMITH: Ted, I want to make sure we get this, because we are not going to be in the chain of title for the 30 acres. Is that correct?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: The simplest way to do this is without us being in the chain of title for that tract.

MR. SMITH: So our ability to influence that would be limited.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I guess the first question is, why is it that we wouldn't want it, since we would have both sides of the creek, and it is contiguous to the Hancock tract? Even if it is across the creek, I don't understand why we wouldn't want it, if it were offered, particularly at $400 an acre.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. Well, there are two reasons. One of which is, Big Thicket Preserve is in the process of attempting to acquire — and I'm just going to take the liberty of stepping over here — in the process of attempting to acquire this tract, which is in their footprint. And they will want the continuity for their management, the continuity that that wedge would provide between those two tracts.

And then secondly, it has been the policy of this Commission historically for us not to — to attempt not to acquire small disjunct parcels that are problematic for us to manage. There is no reason we can't do that physically. That has just been the direction we have received in the past.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, but how difficult is it to manage 30 acres of timberland?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, if it is an hour drive to get to it.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I mean, what is involved in managing 30 acres of timberland? What would you envision would be required to manage it, as you are using that word?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, since it is designated as state park land, the GLO requires that there is public access to it for recreation. And if there is not, they retain the right, the authority in Texas to identify that as underutilized and to take it away from us and sell it. COMMISSIONER HOLT: They can sell it. We can't stop that.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Which they have done on several occasions.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: We'd rather give it to the Feds, especially if they are going to acquire that southeast creek.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, then the Chairman brings me to my next question. Since you say the little indented portion, the Feds are looking at trying to acquire. But isn't a portion of that on the west side of the creek?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Wouldn't we want that portion on the west side of the creek, since it would be contiguous to us?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I am sure we would love to have that. Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is there any way we might inject that thought into this discussion?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I will see that the thought gets injected. Yes, sir. And the fact is, if it were not for the involvement of the Conservation Fund, there is not a snowball's chance we would have $2.7 million to make this acquisition. They are working very closely with us, and with the Feds. And you know, they are looking at the big picture, and trying to determine which of those lands make the most sense for management by which entity.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, that seems to me that that portion of that little area under potential acquisition by the Feds, it seems it makes most sense that we have it.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I would dearly love to add that to the state park system.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I bet you can get it done.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I will put it on my list. I will go back to my office and put it on my list.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Does the park goer, in our parks have access to Big Thicket, through the Feds?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. In fact, even before Big Thicket acquired any land adjacent to the park, we had a very clear understanding. In fact, they prefer a management agreement with us, that gives us authority to manage trails into that. Because even though public recreation is a part of their mandate, they don't have staff on the ground in that location. And they are very happy for us to help them maintain trails that allow visitors to the State Park access to all of that land. It is a very good working relationship.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Very good. So we want to work with our partners. Okay. Our park goers then have access then to the Big Thicket areas.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And hopefully, this new area that they may be able to acquire southeast, including that corner.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. The other thing that is very important about this acquisition, that western boundary is actually a road. And it is the only road that provides access into the eastern third of what we already own.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And currently, we have access only by the good graces of Hancock and the previous owner. The intervening landowner had hoped to acquire this tract and prohibit access for us to the park. So it is important access, an important acquisition for a lot of reasons.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Very much so. Good. Okay.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. Any other comments for Ted?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I will authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process. Committee Item Number 3, Land Donation, Bastrop County, 37.36 Acres Adjacent to Buescher State Park. Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, Good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I am with the Land Conservation Program. This item represents the first reading of a recommendation to accept the donation of a 36-acre tract of land in Buescher State Park. You can see in this map the relationship between Bastrop State Park, Buescher State Park and the City of Bastrop. This particular tract is on the market. It has been offered by a willing seller.

As some of you know, the Parks and Wildlife Foundation has an account. It was a donation, a dedicated donation for the acquisition of forested lands adjacent to Buescher and Bastrop State Park. This particular tract fit the desires of the donor very well. It is a stunning — I wish I had a picture of it.

It is a stunning piece of property. Actually, it is at elevation, looking out over Buescher State Park. It is a willing seller at fair market value. It provides the only access into a large portion of the park from the highway. It is all designated Houston toad habitat. Is an excellent acquisition.

And staff will make the following recommendation tomorrow; that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorize the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to accept the donation of a 37.36-acre tract of land as an addition to Buescher State Park. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How much money does the Foundation have? Are you aware of the total that they have to apply to this?

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Currently in hand, it is somewhat over a million dollars. And I believe there is one more scheduled deposit into that account.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: That is great. Okay. Any other comments for Ted on this item?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: If not, I will place this item on the Thursday committee meeting agenda for public comment and action. Committee Item Number 4, New Environmental Review, Memorandum of Understanding with Texas Department of Transportation. Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Once again, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman and Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I am with the Land Conservation Program. This item is essentially a briefing and a request to publish. We have several MOUs with TxDOT, but this one focuses on what is called our environmental review MOU. The Legislature, back in 1993 instructed TxDOT to run their new transportation projects past us for review of potential impacts to natural resources. Particularly rare species, endangered species, important habitat.

And since that time we have been — we have reviewed thousands of highway projects in Texas. Airport projects fall under that as well. It was the intent of the Legislature that that MOU be revisited and updated regularly. And staff of this agency have been working with staff at TxDOT for several years on this new revision. This revision is significant in that it rewrites several important provisions of the MOU.

And in a nutshell what is going to change, TxDOT has been working with us to try and find ways to make the whole environmental review process a little less burdensome. They send over projects that sometimes are a quarter of an acre or a half an acre. There is a 45-day review period. For small local projects, they consider that to be somewhat of a burden. Our concern has been that the only compensation historically has occurred for federally regulated habitats. Wetlands and habitats designated habitats for listed species.

So in the new MOU, we have essentially made a tradeoff, where they are going to keep smaller projects on a ledger that we are going to spot check from time to time. And a percentage of their annual new construction and repair budget is going to be earmarked for compensation for impacts to state resources; resources that are not regulated by federal law. As you can see here, that is what I just said, essentially.

We think this is a very good deal all the way around. It will reduce staff time and effort at both agencies in review. We will still spot check and make sure that those projects that result in impacts are being compensated for. The amount of compensation that occurs for conservation in Texas resulting from those impacts will increase significantly as a result of these changes. And staff is requesting permission to publish those changes in the Texas Register. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Commissioner Duggins?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: This may be way off the track, but did Sunset, wasn't one of the provisions in the Sunset Bill that we — that agencies such as TxDOT who were required to check with us, before a project and to whom we then gave recommendations and feedback, history had shown that they weren't getting back to us, and that we were now supposed to do, take some further steps to cause that to occur. And is this in any way related to that? And if not, should it be?

MR. SMITH: Well, it is certainly indirectly related to it. This MOA which was authorized by the Legislature back in '99 Ted, essentially formalizes the process by which we review all of their projects. And of the 1,100 permits or so we review a year, nearly 60 percent of those have to do with TxDOT. You are right about the Sunset recommendation and the legislation that came forward in which our habitat assessment teams, when they provide the biologically based recommendations on how to avoid fish and wildlife impacts for development projects, government agencies are now required by law to provide a formal response to us, as to how they addressed those or did not. And that is a new development that they will have to comply with. So there is some overlap here.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Great. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other comments?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All right. If not, I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Thank you very much, Ted. Mr. Chairman, I know you will be saddened to know that there is no scheduled Executive Session at this time. And so my committee has completed its business.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, what are you going to do for lunch?

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I don't know.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It won't be as interesting. Thank you. We will now recess for lunch, and I hope everyone will be able to join us at two o'clock in this same room for our annual public hearing; two o'clock here.

Thank you.

(Whereupon, the meeting was concluded at 12:25 p.m.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee
LOCATION: Fort Worth, Texas
DATE: August 26, 2009

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 20, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Barbara Wall before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

9/08/09
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731


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