Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Outreach and Education Committee

May 26, 2010

Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 26th day of May 2010, 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:

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: We'll now move to Outreach and Education Committee. Chairman Martin.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous committee meeting, which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So move.

COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Motion by Commissioner Friedkin, seconded by Commissioner Hixon. All in favor say Aye.

(Chorus of Ayes.)

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: All opposed? Hearing none, motion carries. Committee Item Number 1, Update on TPWD Progress In Implementing the TPWD Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan. Mr. Smith.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Madame Chair. Just a couple of action items resulting from the Land and Water Plan that I want to report on at this committee meeting. One is The Texas Partnership for Children and Nature. As you will all recall, there was a bipartisan group of legislators which asked the agency to develop a plan to address getting Texas families into the out-of-doors and to address the growing trend of natural resources illiteracy and so they asked the agency to take the lead on that, working in concert with Department of State Health Services and the Department of Agriculture.

That project is well under way. Lydia and her team have played a major role, Nancy Herron in particular. We have over 90 participants helping to work on the plan, addressing everything from the health side, the education side, the community side, the access side, marketing, legislative-related ideas, policy ideas, et cetera. We expect to be finalizing a draft plan this summer that then we'll take back to the steering committee that we appointed late summer, early fall ‑‑ ultimately get a plan approved and submitted by the 1st of November. At that time, we want to come back and brief the Commission on that plan.

We're also going to be doing briefings for key legislators and then we've got a statewide conference on this plan in December. So, very, very excited about the progress on that and Madame Chair, I appreciate your participation and leadership and helping us move that along. Very, very excited.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Very exciting.

MR. SMITH: Also, as all of you know, we have made a decision that as opposed to holding the annual Expo event here in Austin that we would take an Expo-like outreach event on the road and target various communities around the state and this year we have four community partners in that effort; Houston ‑‑ partnering with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, San Antonio ‑‑ San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo, Corpus Christi, with their annual Buccaneer Days and then, coming up in June, Longview, with their AlleyFest and the goal is to get the outreach around the state, have representation by all of the divisions there and see if we can't target some specific demographics that we haven't necessarily been able to reach in Austin with Expo.

So far, again, we've done three of these. We haven't done Buc Days yet. We have reached almost 6,000 participants who are actively participating in an activity and about 41 percent of the participants have been Hispanics, compared to about 15 percent at Expo, so that's kind of an interesting finding of the Life's Better Outside regional event. So, we promised that we'd come back with metrics with you all and we do have some measures in place to try to track participation down the road and so look forward to further updates in that regard.

The last thing I will mention, in the interest of time, two weeks ago we launched the 19th state paddling trail there on Village Creek in East Texas. That's ‑‑ there at Village Creek State Park, it's about a 21-mile-long paddling trail there along Village Creek. We had a partnership there with the local community, National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, State Parks; it is an extraordinary reach of river. We've got one planned for the Neches coming up next week and I think we've got another ten in the pipeline.

So the Public Access to encourage you folks to get out and paddle and kayak is really, really going strong and we're very, very pleased about that. So, a lot of embracing by communities around the state, big and small so I wanted to share that update with you.

Madame Chair, I think that concludes my report.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Smith. I also want to make a brief comment. This weekend, Commissioner Duggins and Commissioner Hixon and myself went a did a little paddling down the Neches so we trail-blazed before the paddling trail opened. We got so excited we couldn't wait so it was a great time and enjoyed it.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Did you claim the trail and it's all ready and machetes out and ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I have the proof. Everything has been cleared and ready to go.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So, anyway, just wanted to make that comment and some very gracious hosts. Continuing on to Item Number 2, the TPWD Social Media Efforts. Ms. Lydia Saldana. And, Ms. Saldana was also ‑‑ joined us for the Neches paddling trail.

MS. SALDANA: And I have some ant bites to prove it. I'm Lydia Saldana, Communications Director and I'm here today to talk to you a little bit about using social media tools; how we're using the social media tools to get our message out and engage with our constituents. Earlier this year ‑‑ actually late last fall ‑‑ we worked with a cross-divisional team, including George Rios and his group and Ann Bright, to come up with a social media policy and guidelines to help our employees kind of know how to use these tools.

Today, I'm going to brief you on exactly what we're doing and how we're evaluating its effectiveness. I want to point out that these tools directly support a major goal within our Land and Water Plan and that calls for us to educate, inform and engage citizens in support of our mission. Of course, that's what social media's all about. It's about engagement and engaging our customers in a conversation. To provide some context, I think it's important to realize that we're actually, right now, in the midst of a media revolution and, a case in point, you can take a look at ‑‑ how many years did it take radio to get to 50 million listeners or users? It took 38 years to go from the first broadcast to 50 million users. It sped up to 13 years for television and it took only four years for the internet. Now, for Facebook, once they reached the mass market, it took ‑‑ they added close to 200 million users in less than two years. As of today, there are about 460 million users on Facebook and 125 million of them are here in the United States.

A couple of more fun facts. If Facebook were a country, the population would make it the third largest country in the world, ahead of the United States and only behind China and India. The world's population is trending younger and, for example, in the United States, the vast majority of folks under 30 are on some sort of social network and, of course, this is the audience that we need to be reaching. YouTube is second only to Google, in terms of a search engine and, as for marketing, 78 percent of consumers have more trust in peer recommendations than in advertising messages. More and more businesses are using social media to get the word out about their products.

Really, social media has led to a fundamental shift on how we communicate. The old model was a passive one. Marketers decided who they wanted to reach, consumers took in the message and they tended to trust that official source. That's not the case anymore and social media really has turned marketing on its ear. Really, it's all about user-generated content. Consumers are driving the information exchange, they decide what information they want, they interact and share it and, most importantly, they trust their peers, not official channels necessarily, to give them the skinny on whatever they're interested in.

Now there are literally dozens of social media tools out there. We've chosen to focus our initial efforts on four and those are four that we consider to be the most popular, the most used. Those four are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr. Now, I've done a social media presentation ‑‑ several of them over the last couple of months, for example, to the Wildlife Division and I've realized that not everyone understands how social media works so I'm going to ask you all the same questions that I've asked every other audience.

How many of you all are on Facebook?

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I'm chastised for not using it very often.

MS. SALDANA: Okay. Okay. Well, that's actually better than I would have expected. Still, indulge me in a little primer on how social media works.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: You're talking about individually being on it.

MS. SALDANA: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

MS. SALDANA: So, just to explain just the basic principles. Basically, social media tools allow users to share what they like with their network of friends. That allows us to gain exposure to not only those folks who have raised their hand and said they want to be part of our network but also everyone else that they're connected to. So, in essence, we're building a community of conservation-minded constituents who choose to connect with us and become engaged with our messages and our mission.

I tried to come up with an example. The best example I could think of was a pyramid scheme but without the bad connotation. Here's a graphic Robert Timbrook put together. When we post an item on our Facebook page, when you put a post up ‑‑ we have ‑‑ right now we have about 26,000 fans and probably more since yesterday. So, we post it on our Facebook feed and that appears on the news feed of 26,000 of our fans. Now, if they comment on that or share it or like it, that means that it appears on their news feed as well with all of their fans.

Now, if any of their friends comment on it, you can see how that ripple effect occurs. Now, that's called impressions and demonstrates the reach of each of our messages. Now, the average Facebook user has about 130 friends. Some of the extroverts in the group probably have more, so you can kind of see how that math works. It's a ripple effect for our conservation messages that has the potential to have an exponential effect.

Now, I want to show you a little bit about what we're doing on Facebook. That's, I think, where most of the activity is. We have more than 26,000 fans in less than a year. We've just begun to promote it. For example, we've just put the icons on our Facebook. We're beginning to put those icons on our ads. We've just begun to promote it. We're posting an average of three posts a day, on a variety of topics, and each post is averaging about 60,000 impressions.

I want to introduce Whitney Bishop ‑‑ Whitney, back here. Whitney is our ‑‑ I guess our voice of Facebook. She handles our Facebook post. She's one of the newest employees in the Communications Division so she's handling that as well as some web video. Sitting right next to her is Robert Timbrook. He's the Director of Interactive Services and Robert, I noticed that it's your one-year anniversary today, isn't it? And we've kept him really busy over the past year but these two folks have been very involved in our social media efforts.

One really cool thing about Facebook and all other social media tools is that it provides analytics. We know who we're connecting to. We know, for example, that on Facebook we've got almost 50/50 male to female, which, as you know when you look at our customer base, that's good. We're reaching the female audience that we need to reach. Seventy-five percent of them are aged 25 to 54 and I think that's another, I guess, false idea about Facebook that it's just a bunch of kids. Actually, the fastest growing demographic in Facebook is folks 50 and above ‑‑ women 50 and above so ‑‑ but a big part of it is that younger demographic.

We also know where they're coming from and so we know that almost half of our fans are from Texas urban areas. These are folks that we need to be connecting with. I want to show just an example because we post things about every topic under the sun. Wildlife-related posts are our absolute most popular. This post, for example, on a barred owl got over 100,000 impressions and we, for example, last week, we put something up about a painted bunting that also was very popular and anytime we put anything up about a horned lizard, that gets shared and passed around a lot.

Now what's encouraging, at least to me, about all of this, is this type of response demonstrates how people ‑‑ even people in urban areas, still care about wildlife and it's relevant to their lives. It's just one more way that we're helping folks connect with wildlife.

This was a post about free fishing in state parks and I know that Walt is very, very well aware that this program has been in place for a long time. We haven't had the advertising dollars to promote it so there's still a lot of people out there that don't know, you know, what it is. This post ‑‑ we have folks commenting, Oh, that's great, I didn't know this was around, I'm going to check it out, and, again, they're sharing that information with everybody who are their friends.

Here's a post that we did. I know most of you guys were at the Game Warden Training Center dedication. We were able to turn video within a day and we were able to post that to YouTube and we did a Facebook post. We had a lot of response, great, you know, positive comments about our game wardens, also some interest in how do you become one? So we were able ‑‑ it also can be a recruiting tool, as well. Another thing we're doing ‑‑ oh, I'm sorry, go ahead.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: There's a convict in that picture.

MS. SALDANA: That's Carter Smith.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm just kidding.

MR. SMITH: The cadet's first apprehension.

MS. SALDANA: Besides the main Facebook page, another thing we've begun are what we call Niche Facebook pages and these are Facebook pages that have to do with individual state parks and individual programs. For example, Inland Fisheries, Aquatic Education, Hunter Education, Urban Wildlife, the Toyota ShareLunker program; these are individual pages that are set up for those interests and they're also getting great responses.

I want to point out that these sites ‑‑ they're not all maintained by Whitney. Whitney does our main Facebook page and what this depends on are folks in the programs and out in the parks taking the initiative to get involved. It's strictly voluntary whether a site or program gets involved in Facebook. It's not something we say you have to do. They have to raise their hand and be interested in it and it's happening right now because there's so many enthusiastic employees out there that are anxious to use these tools to get the word out.

Now, state parks, in particular, has really taken the ball and run with it. We did a presentation back in February, talking about this and how you set that up and going through the guidelines and we've had, just every week, we have more sites added. We have 40 state park sites so far and we've got a variety of folks who have raised their hand from park rangers to park interpreters ‑‑ I might point out, they're the younger members of our staff ‑‑ but they've taken the lead in making this tool work and they really are. This is the Dangerfield page and they set up on like a Friday and within ‑‑ almost over a weekend, they had over 1,000 fans. So these tools are effective and it's building a community of folks who are interested in what we do.

Now YouTube is another tool that we're using very effectively. As you all know, we have a wealth of video content. We've been doing television production ‑‑ really high quality television production for the 20 years that I've been here and we've got a huge library of topics ‑‑ segments, programs on virtually every topic. We have uploaded 200 videos. These videos are fully accessible in closed captions, which I think is great. They're fully accessible and we've had, to date, over 260,000 channel views ‑‑ over 550 subscribers. And, again, this is a way that we're able to multi-purpose and leverage all that video content that we have. It's a great way to get that message out.

Some of our most popular videos have been "how to" videos. This is Ann Miller in aquatic education and thanks to the donation from the Toyota Texas Bass Classic, we've produced a series of "how to" fishing 101 videos that have been among the most popular things on our site. We've had over 50,000 views and we're using every tool that we can to get them out. So it's a great way to have exposure on that.

As a former journalist, I'm real excited about the ability to turn things very quickly so we're increasingly getting into where we can turn things like the game warden thing within a day. You all may recall this story. There were captured Harris hawks that were unlawfully captured and we were able to follow that trek all the way down to south Texas to their release and we were able to post a YouTube video ‑‑ did a Facebook post. Again, we do a video news release that goes out the following month but now we're able to turn this stuff and get this information out, you know, quicker and quicker, which is a very good thing.

Now, the other thing about YouTube that you probably know, there's a focus on fun so we try to have fun with YouTube as well, along with conservation messages. What you're looking at here is a critter's valentine that we put together and it featured G rated mating behaviors of Texas wildlife with the message, Love's Better Outside, and it went viral. A lot of people shared it. It was just a great, positive deal and, again, we've done that over Thanksgiving, we've done Halloween so, it's not all just, you know, the serious stuff. We also look for ways to have some fun with some of the items on our ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: How were our hits on that?

MS. SALDANA: Good.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Okay.

MS. SALDANA: Yes, we did ‑‑ it went viral. It got over 6,000 views in less than a week and then it continues to be shared so that's pretty cool. We also have a Twitter feed and we have about 1100 followers on that. State Parks, I think, will be able to use Twitter to really provide real time updates of what's going on. For example, San Angelo has been a very early adopter of that and will be one of the first parks to have its Twitter feed appear on its web page and its Facebook page. I've also talked to Al and to Pete about the fact that there's a crisis communication and natural disaster capability with Twitter that we've just begun to explore so that's a tool that I think has a lot of potential.

Now, Flickr is a photo site that has photos from our state parks. We've got over 850 photos so far, with 50,000 views and we've also put together a popular screen saver section with beautiful pictures that folks can download as a screen saver, of course, branded with our logo so, that's also a tool that folks are beginning to use and with nature photography being such a big segment of nature tourism, this is something that our customers are very interested in.

So why are we doing all this? You know, it's fun, it's cool, but what's the value? We're seeing some very tangible goals reached. For example, increasing visitation to state parks. One of the things that continues to surprise those of us who are in our circle here is how few Texans really know about the Texas State Park System. It's amazing when we do focus groups, when we do surveys, that people really don't understand the breadth of our system. So, whenever we do a state park post, we always get comments like that ‑‑ you know, this is about Cooper Lake — I've never heard of it. I'll have to check it out. It's not that far from me. We're seeing those kind of comments and responses every time we put a post up about a state park.

Again, as I mentioned earlier, our fans are the ones that are doing the marketing for us. They talk about how great it is and, again, that appears directly on their pages that is shared with their friends, as well.

Increasing license sales is another goal and we are very conscious of putting timely, seasonal messages. For example, a public hunting message garnered this response, "Looks like fun. Just got to get my hunter's license." And you all know about the issue with churn. People don't buy licenses year to year so that top-of-mind awareness of it's time to get out there, there's places to go ‑‑ it's going to be really important to us to help us maintain our license sales.

And, of course, you all remember this guy; this is Salvinia Monster and increasing conservation awareness is another goal. Along with the April 1st kickoff that many of you participated in ‑‑ I think all of you were there ‑‑ with the governor, we also, at the same time, launched a social media strategy that went with that. So, we put the PSA up and it went viral. That had close to 4,000 views in the first week and again, that's just ‑‑ that's continuing to build on itself.

And increased revenue. Here's an example, again, of our license plates and we ‑‑ this year ‑‑ had a pretty robust online marketing strategy that included social media and we saw the sales of our plates go up almost 82 percent this year and, of course, cultivate loyal fans. And one way you do that is through interaction and we've had ‑‑ Facebook fans, for example, have posted over 1500 of their photos and sometimes they'll post something and say, What is this? and we can get a biologist or someone to weigh in and we can help them identify what they've taken pictures of and targeting specific audiences. For example, with the countdown to the 500 Toyota ShareLunker this year, we had a lot of fun with that. We did a multimedia campaign to build excitement on our website, Facebook, YouTube, email blasts and really had a lot of interaction with the folks that are very interested in that.

So how are we measuring effectiveness? I mentioned up top that one of the best things about social media is what we call the "Just In Time Free Analytics." Within an hour of posting a post, we know how many impressions it's gotten and we know, on an ongoing basis, who we're reaching and even where they're from. So that's a good deal.

I think another metric that we'll be keeping an eye on and it's actually, I think, an action item, as part of our Land and Water Plan, for the Division, is just to continue positive growth of those metrics for all of these tools. And then reaching priority demographics ‑‑ urban, women, young people, minorities and, for example, according to Hispanic online marketing, 45 percent of Hispanics who are online use social media. So this is going to be an effective way to get to that audience and other priority audiences as well.

I want to point out ‑‑ because I've had people say, Why are we keeping people on a computer when we're all about outdoor recreation? You know, I want to point out that, really, this using technology to enable outdoor experiences. It gets folks excited about it, it gives them the information they need to enjoy it, it keeps it top-of-mind so I think that ‑‑ I want to make that point. I also want to make the point that this doesn't replace some of the things ‑‑ the other things that we're doing, whether it's media relations, marketing campaigns, PSAs, the outreach on the ground ‑‑ this complements it. It's just an overlay and complements it. So I think that's important to note.

The other thing and one of the first slides I talked about, is how fast this is changing and that, probably, is the biggest challenge for us, to kind of stay on the cutting edge and kind of watch what's out there. And that's one thing Robert does very well. You know, there's going to continue to be new opportunities, there's also going continue to be issues like, for example. some of the flak over privacy issues on Facebook but those things are resolved. For example, Facebook just today announced that they are making it much easier for users to control privacy settings. Those kind of issues will continue but we're going to stay on top of it. I think that we've come up with a very good social media policy. We're among the first, if not the first, state agency in Texas to be using these tools and I've already shared our policy and guidelines with dozens of my colleagues. So, with that, I'll take any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Any questions, comments? I really want to thank you for your efforts on getting this out there and doing a great job. It makes it fun and in order to get the people that are watching it on the computer out, is ‑‑ and what an enticement to leave that computer and run outside. So ‑‑ I also wanted to make a comment and thank you and your team on the Children and Nature program. It's coming along beautifully and we really do appreciate all the effort. Thank you so much.

MS. SALDANA: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Lydia, it's wonderful but, boy, you're on ‑‑ the key is how to measure it. And we've been doing this in our Spurs and [indiscernible] ‑‑ how you turn it into anything though. How you get them from saying, Oh, wow, that's great, you know. I'd like to go to Inks Lake but then to get them there and then figure out, is that how they got there so that you know that this is how you got their attention and ‑‑

MS. SALDANA: Well, sometimes it's really ‑‑ an example, just literally from yesterday. We got an agreement with Odwalla to plant some trees in state parks ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I saw that.

MS. SALDANA: ‑‑ and you have to go online and vote and we did some email marketing, as well as Facebook posts and we went from zero to 2000 from yesterday to today and now we're beating Pennsylvania. So if you haven't voted yet, get on there and vote. So it's a pretty good tool and that is an example of you know exactly what ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MS. SALDANA: ‑‑ you're getting but it's so ‑‑ it's difficult when ‑‑ in the larger scheme.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, the integration and then ‑‑ and measuring it. Yes. Congratulations. Good.

MS. SALDANA: Thanks.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: If you vote on this deal ‑‑ what is it, Odwalla?

MS. SALDANA: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ and they get up to a certain amount of votes then they'll plant ‑‑ they'll give the state so many trees.

MS. SALDANA: Correct. It's competition.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's competition with other states.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I'll go vote right now.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Item Number 3 — Outreach Efforts of the Wildlife Division. Ms. Kelly Bender and Ms. Meredith Longoria.

MS. BENDER: Good afternoon, Commissioners and ‑‑ pardon me, Good afternoon Madame Chair and Commissioners. My name, for the record, is Kelly Conrad Bender. I'm an urban wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Division stationed in Austin, Texas. With me is Meredith Longoria. She's a Regulatory Wildlife biologist, stationed in Bastrop County.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: What does a ‑‑ sorry I have to ask, but what is a regulatory wildlife biologist do versus ‑‑

MS. BENDER: You didn't ask about the urban.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, no. I just said versus the urban.

MS. LONGORIA: Well, we help monitor the local wildlife populations, such as white-tailed deer ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.

MS. LONGORIA: ‑‑ dove, as well as provide technical guidance to landowners.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, okay. And urban?

MS. BENDER: And an urban wildlife biologist increases the opportunities for folks in urbanized areas to engage in nature-related activities, either through habitat conservation or education outreach.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So, are you on Facebook?

MS. BENDER: I'm definitely on Facebook. I have a personal account and a Parks and Wildlife ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Both.

MS. BENDER: Absolutely. So today what we're going to be doing is outlining some of the outreach activities that the Wildlife Division has been engaged in, particularly in the Wildlife Diversity Program and in the WMA and regulatory staff as well.

Oftentimes we find that our audience can be divided broadly into two categories; the unengaged ‑‑ and those folks are folks who are not familiar with the wildlife or perhaps fearful of wildlife or simply just don't think very much about wildlife ‑‑ to the passionate. Now, you can call them tree huggers or you can call them nature enthusiasts, but they share one thing in common and that is an avid appreciation for the out-of-doors. They share also a passion and usually an experience that has inspired them, whether it is through a special mentor or an experience and they will become engaged, whether we engage them or somebody else does.

Like any good hunter, we choose our tool based on our target. For the unengaged, the unengaged audiences tend to be ‑‑ we need to reach them often, many times, and they're very, very broad in scope so we need to utilize a very diffuse, large field method and for that we use a shotgun method. What we try to do is to break down barriers, to raise awareness about wildlife and, primarily, to prime them to be able to receive a more complicated message. For example, through voting for increased water rights or water resources and also even hunting regulations.

We do have a problem though. In urban areas, in particular, we have many more folks than we can possibly reach. In fact, each of our urban offices, each of our field offices, could work full time accepting all the school groups, the Rotary Club groups, the garden clubs, the scout troops that request our services but if we address everyone of those concerns, we'll never have enough time to move people along the continuum to become a more active constituency.

So we use different targets ‑‑ different methods for addressing those folks who are already engaged and are in passionate. We have specific goals and ‑‑ pardon me, I'm a little nervous.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: You're doing just fine.

MS. BENDER: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I like some of your drawings of those ‑‑ you want to do the unengaged or ‑‑

MS. BENDER: The fearful, the unengaged ‑‑ absolutely.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's quite a look.

MS. BENDER: In addressing our passionate audience, staff specially hones our message to address specific goals and, in doing so, we develop new partnerships and even unique relationships, such as relationships with councils of government, city councils, municipal bodies, people that we don't ordinarily work with and in doing so we are hoping to derive some sort of action.

In activating folks and trying to get that action, we are fostering a deeper awareness. We're creating ambassadors so what we're trying to do is multiply ourselves and creating more of us in the community and we even hope to get a return on our investment and, in doing so, we not only get community activism but also, perhaps, even citizen science, which provides even more biologists.

The biggest thing ‑‑ well, one of the biggest things that we can derive from activating the passionate folks are to derive ‑‑ again, to multiply ourselves and to get those folks out there to do more of that shotgun approach that we can't completely fulfill. In doing so, we have community planners, citizen scientists and even those who are active in habitat assessment in our own communities.

And those folks continually refer back to us for more information.

So one extremely effective example of how we have activated the passionate and engaged the unengaged is the Texas Master Naturalist program. In our first ten years we've been able to ‑‑ through that program ‑‑ now just to give you a brief overview, if you haven't heard of the Master Naturalist program, we provide citizens in urbanized areas with education. We provide 40 hours of instruction and then we ask for 40 hours of volunteer service back from them each year. And, in doing so, we receive nine ‑‑ we've received improvement or conservation on 90,000 acres of Texas habitat. They've improved over 1,000 miles of trails in Texas. They've contributed over a million service hours and those service hours provide our ‑‑ are represented by 16.4 million dollars. If you compare that to the wildlife budget, that's a significant amount of money or resources that we don't have to expend. It's spread throughout all of the major metropolitan areas in Texas and beyond to 42 chapters in 183 counties, covering over 69 percent of the state. It has been recognized as such a successful model that 27 additional states are utilizing it. So the Wildlife Division ‑‑ the Wildlife Diversity Program, the field staff, are extremely adept at determining the appropriate tools to address our different audiences to achieve our goals, by raising awareness in the unengaged, mentoring the inspired and then activating the passionate, we can multiply our efforts and if you're interested, that's Chip Ruthven's little girl.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: She's ready.

MS. BENDER: Absolutely, she is.

MR. SMITH: Chip is a biologist at the Matador and he's done a lot of horned lizard research.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MS. BENDER: And I'll hand it over to Meredith.

MS. LONGORIA: Thank you, Kelly. Good afternoon, Madame Chair and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Meredith Longoria and I am a regulatory wildlife biologist in Wildlife District 7, Region 4 and my counties of responsibility are Bastrop and Caldwell Counties and I'm going to provide a brief synopsis of some of the more specific outreach programs that we employ in the field throughout the wildlife division in Texas.

One of our major passions is putting conservation on the ground as field biologists. And, one of our best ways of getting that done, since most of Texas is privately owned, is through these outreach efforts, especially our landowner workshops and field days and that's where we have demonstrations on how to implement a variety of wildlife management techniques to improve habitat. For example, in the bottom right-hand corner, that's a picture of a small acreage demonstration area that Wes Littrell was associated with and that is a great example of some of our landowner workshop-type events that we do, as well as in the top left-hand corner, our prescribed burn workshops that are offered throughout the state of Texas annually.

Giving landowners a chance to do hands-on work is very beneficial and allows them to have a little more confidence to employ these techniques on their own property. Pictured in the bottom left-hand corner are our wildlife tax valuation workshops and those are very popular and host as many as 250 people at a time sometimes and in those we explain how to qualify for wildlife tax valuation, as well as how to implement the practices that qualify, to improve the habitat for wildlife.

Two anatomy workshops have also become very popular. This is a demonstration based-type workshop as well, where we show landowners how to field dress deer, identify external and internal anatomy and their functions. We also analyze rumen content and match that content that's found in the rumen, with actual print specimens from the area so they can see the importance of natural forage, show them how to age deer by tooth wear and replacement technique as well as to estimate conception by measuring a fetus on a fetus scale.

We offer a variety of programs to school groups at our wildlife management areas across the state, from elementary-aged groups all the way to college-aged groups where they're able to come and learn about the habitat characteristics of the area, the wildlife species of the area. We introduce ecology and they're able to actually conduct field studies on site. Other youth outreach efforts include agricultural field days where we introduce small ‑‑ usually young elementary-aged school kids to wildlife species and their characteristics and habitat and adaptations. Also, we have some programs that aim to bring underprivileged youth into the outdoors and introduce conservation topics to them, as well as partnering with Texas Wildlife Association, with their Lands Field Days which enhances science curriculum out in the field, as well as the Jakes events that take place at a variety of places across the state, which is a partnership with National Wild Turkey Federation.

Our youth shooting sports events are also a very popular event that takes place across the state at a variety of different areas. Chaparral Wildlife Management Area has hosted two a year since 1994, servicing about 300 kids a year. Washington and Lee counties, for the past six years, have held one at Nails Creek State Park and M.O. Neasloney Wildlife Management Area has hosted a two‑day event for the previous 13 years and these events bring kids out to these wildlife management areas ‑‑ our state parks ‑‑ who may have never had any experience with firearms before and they get to try their hand at firing a variety of firearms from 22 pistols to muzzle-loaders, archery, and they get firearm safety talks, as well as they learn hunter safety and hunter ethics. We have hunting simulation trails that we walk them along and they have a lot of fun at those events.

The Public Hunter outreach programs at our wildlife management areas are very popular. As you can see in the upper left-hand corner there, that's a standby group at Chaparral Wildlife Management Area and there's usually a hunter orientation provided and that gives us an opportunity to interject some habitat management technique information to these hunters as well and we have specialized youth hunts and other special events, such as the dog trials at Justin Hurst Wildlife Management Area.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the support from our wildlife interpretative program and our outreach efforts and the wonderful displays and kiosks that they have created for our wildlife management areas to enhance visitor experience that show a little bit about the history and the wildlife and the habitat characteristics of the area and they also provide publications for us to use out in the field as well, with our outreach efforts.

Other public outreach events include what was already mentioned, the ranching and wildlife expos in Houston, as well as the Life's Better Outside Experiences, which all the divisions take part in. We also have coastal expos and all of these allow us to reach thousands of people in a very short period of time and show them what it is that we actually have to offer, as far as technical guidance, how to get in touch with your wildlife biologist and what we provide for the public, as well as generate interest about wildlife in general.

Our wildlife management association meetings are a very important tool for outreach, especially in my part of Texas where I work in that that's an area that's highly impacted by habitat fragmentation because the average landholding size is very small and so what these are are groups of landowners that get together with a common interest in wildlife and contact their local wildlife biologist and we help them develop a wildlife management plan to help track the local deer population, if that's the species that's of interest and right now we're seeing a trend ‑‑ a change in the trend of what the species of interest is. We've got groups that are formed specifically to improve habitat for quail, to help boost the quail populations in certain parts of Texas as well as Allen Creek Wildlife Management Association, which formed specifically to improve habitat for the endangered Houston toad, which is kind of a new turn of events.

These wildlife management associations generally have annual or biannual meetings and fund-raisers so they can purchase equipment from the funds raised that can be loaned to members that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford such equipment to implement wildlife management practices.

And then, in summary, we offered 1,040 presentations and consultations over fiscal year 2009 through the Wildlife Division, 614 programs targeted 30,000 youth, minorities and women and we reached approximately 197,000 people with information on wildlife, habitat management and public hunting and regulations and, with that, Kelly and I will conclude our presentation and take any questions you have.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: On the summary, is there any way of knowing how many of these individuals actually implemented the program that was being offered?

MS. LONGORIA: As far as the techniques that were being demonstrated? Not that I know of. I don't know of any way to track that. I don't ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Again, it's always our issue of how do you, you know ‑‑

MS. LONGORIA: How do you track ‑‑ yes.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: ‑‑ how do you track.

MS. LONGORIA: Right.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, you go to those specialty groups like on the Houston toad. I mean, are they setting target? I mean ‑‑ help me, there.

MS. LONGORIA: Well, the Houston toad ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: What would they be doing?

MS. LONGORIA: ‑‑ is a little bit different in that many of those landowners have very, very small property sizes of two to five acres, sometimes ten acres and very rarely over that and so this is getting them to actively manage the small acreage that they have and they do actively manage it because they want the wildlife tax valuation ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.

MS. LONGORIA: ‑‑ and that is a way for them to move directly from market value to wildlife tax valuation in that area because there's a habitat conservation plan that they can participate in and they do and the county monitors the activities that they implement to make sure that they're adhering to their plan so ‑‑ and that's kind of a different ‑‑ that's a very specialized way of being able to track that. I don't ‑‑ our other wildlife management areas, we don't really have ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It'd be more difficult.

MS. LONGORIA: ‑‑ I mean, associations. Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean, do you sense momentum? I mean, in the sense that ‑‑

MS. LONGORIA: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ there's more interest?

MS. LONGORIA: Yes, definitely. Yes.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Ms. Longoria and Ms. Bender, thank you very much for your presentation.

MS. LONGORIA: Thank you. Thank you all for all your efforts in this outreach program.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: It was great.

MR. SMITH: Commissioners, one other thing, just the division does. You know, just eight years ago, the division had about 8 million acres under wildlife management plans. That is now approaching 27 million and so most of that is one-on-one assistance from biologists to landowners out in the field so not encapsulated necessarily in this but having a huge impact on the landscape, as a whole, and just wanted to ‑‑ extraordinary, so ‑‑ make sure you were aware of that.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Mr. Chairman, I pass the gavel to you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: The gavel?

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: The big old gavel? Okay. Well, thank you very much and thank you everybody that was involved today. Your committee has completed its business so I will declare us adjourned. Thank you very much.

(Whereupon, the committee meeting was adjourned at 2:20 p.m.)

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: May 26, 2010

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 37, 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.

06/08/10
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas


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