Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee

May 27, 2009

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

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 27th day of May, 2009, 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: Before we officially start, I will unofficially greet our newly confirmed Commissioner. And of course, Mr. Morian, Reed Morian is brand new to the Commission. Welcome. And then we have how many got confirmed? I think four. Four others. Yes. Antonio, Margaret, Karen and Duggins. Congratulations all, you survived it. Yes. You are official. You can vote now.

Anyway, welcome aboard, and congratulations to everybody. And thank you all for being here today. The meeting is called to order, May 27th, 2009 at 9:05 a.m., or whatever. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.

MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Smith. Are you okay?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I am ready.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. We will begin with the Regulations Committee. Commissioner Friedkin, please call your committee to order.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Our first order of business is approval of the previous committee meeting minutes, which have already been distributed. Motion for approval.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So moved.

COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Moved by Commissioner Bivins. Second by Hixon. All favor?

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, the motion carries. Committee Item Number 1, Update on Progress in Implementing Land and Water Resource Conservation and Recreation Plan. Carter?

MR. SMITH: Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate it. I guess, just as a point of departure, it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce a couple of new members of our leadership team that are with us today. And so I want to call them out, and see if we can't embarrass them publicly.

Ross Melinchuk, our new Deputy Executive Director for Natural Resources. Ross comes to us from Ducks Unlimited. He was there 17 years. And before that, with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, very instrumental in implementing the North American Waterfowl Management Plans, and putting together the joint ventures across the country. And so Ross is joining the leadership team and Ross, welcome aboard.

And then right in front of him is Mike Jensen. Mike is our new Chief Financial Officer. Going to be starting next Monday, and so he will have a week ahead of Ross. So he will have his sea legs well ahead of him. Mike is an accountant and an attorney. And before coming here, he has been with the Comptroller's office, and was formerly the Chief Financial Officer at the Animal Health Commission. And grew up just down the road here in Del Valle. So he is a hometown boy. And delighted to have both of them on board. And so welcome Ross and Mike and thanks for joining us.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, a couple of other things that I want to mention to the Commission. First, I would like to ask permission to publish rules to implement legislation that we think will get passed, or has been passed during the course of this session. This is kind of a customary action item that we do with the Commission during legislative years. There is going to be certain legislation that is passed. It is going to require us to implement rules on the first of September. In order to meet that deadline we are going to be asking for your permission to publish rules in the Texas Register in advance of the August Commission meeting so that you can consider them then. And so we are going to be asking your permission to do that in the public register.

I want to thank all of you who were able to make it to the groundbreaking at the Game Warden Training Center there in Hamilton. That was a very, very special day for us as we got the shovels out and cut the ribbons. It was a big deal. And at our seminal class there, 51 cadets are flying towards graduation on the 9th of June. I hope that all of you can make that. It will be in the House Chambers. It is a great, great cast of very well-qualified men and women that will go out and represent this agency very well around the state. And so help us welcome them on board on the 9th of June.

Last thing that I want to mention to all of you, at the last meeting, you supported a very proactive measure to help us take action to conserve alligator gar populations in our rivers throughout the state. With that, though, came a directive from the Commission for our team to reach out to the bow fishermen, and make sure that we were doing all we could to work with that community to collect data on alligator gar. Our Inland Fisheries team has been working very closely with that community since then, attended a recent bow-fishing tournament on the Trinity River in which they talked about the new regulation. I asked for the support and the cooperation of the bow fishermen, explained the importance of it, and significance of it, and by all accounts, that relationship is going very well. And so I am real pleased with the Inland Fisheries team and what they have done since that regulation was enacted, in reaching out to that community. So with that, Mr. Chairman, I will turn it back over to you, and request permission to publish.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Any questions about the request?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. With no further questions I will authorize staff to publish rules necessary to implement legislation enacted during the 81st Texas Legislature in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Thanks, Carter.

Committee Item Number 2, Proposed Oyster Restoration Rules. Permission to publish proposed changes in the Texas Register. Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: For the record, my name is Robin Riechers of the Coastal Fisheries Division. Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. The item before you is a permission to publish regarding the oyster fishery. And just to kind of give you a quick overview of the oyster fisheries, since we haven't had an item before you in a little while, in regards to this. Within that fishery, we have both the public oyster reef opportunity or harvesting opportunity, and we also have private oyster releases. The public oyster reef season runs from November 1 through April 30. And while the private oyster leases can actually be harvested year-round, predominantly, that harvest period occurs from May to October. When you look at the value of this fishery, this fishery brings in about $18 million a year to the state of Texas, ex-vessel value, which is dockside value. And that is from about 5 million pounds which are harvested, meat weight at dockside.

When we look at Galveston Bay, Galveston Bay makes up 50 to 55 percent of the total harvest and value of this fishery. The lease program is confined only to Galveston Bay, and it makes up roughly about 20 percent of the overall value in the fishery. When we look at participation, we have about 695 boats now licensed to be in this fishery. And that is in the public reef fishery. And we have 43 overall oyster leases. When we look at public reef area, coast-wide, we have about 47,000, 48,000 total acres of open reefs and closed reefs.

And when I say a closed reef, that is a reef that is closed because of the Department of Health has basically deemed that an area that we should not harvest oysters from, due to pollution. And that is actually what supports the lease program, that they are allowed to transplant those oysters from those polluted areas, put them on their leases. They decorate them or cleanse them for a period of about two weeks, and then they are available for harvest after that period of time. When you look at the oyster lease program, just to give you some idea of the number of acres under it, it has about 2,700 acres in that program.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And Robin, when they move them over to that new okay zone, once they are cleaned ‑‑ the Health Department.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly if the waters are, yes. Basically I mean, the Health Department and us as well, monitoring the current situations. And we are the ones who issue the harvest permits. So we will not issue a harvest permit unless there has been an appropriate amount of time off of that lease, 15 days, basically, within the opportunity of a transplant. So we help ensure that, as well as the Department of Health in those open and closed areas.

The proposal before you today, and again, it is a permission to public, it is a permission to publish. What we are doing is an oyster reef restoration in East Bay. This particular restoration or oyster reef was actually silted over in shell dredging in the 1970s. And when Hurricane Katrina and Rita, some of the disaster relief money that came through for that, we basically targeted this as one of our restoration sites. The permitted area that we have there is 350 acres. The site that we are actually going to be working on is about a 20-acre site. It is going to cost us in the neighborhood of about $700,000 to restore this reef area.

Our proposed rule change in a nutshell is to close East Bay. We are going to do that for two seasons, which means that we will open up starting with the license year September 1, 2011. And we are going to use a current approved area boundary that was established by the Department of State Health Services.

I will try to explain this. And I apologize for the map; it is a little bit small. The yellow or orange line, I guess, is the line with the little circles on them, is that approved area. And that is already a designated area, where the Department of State Health Services opens and closes, depending on as they get floods and so forth, and we need to close areas, they have an approved area that they can already open up East Bay, or close East Bay, depending on what they need to do there. So we are going to use that existing line, or at least we are going to propose to use that existing line.

The kind of purple or magenta is the proposed restoration site that you see there. The blue areas are actual reefs, public reefs throughout the East Bay area. And then the kind of yellow lines there, with the numbers beside them are actual oyster leases that are in that area.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robin, is this whole area affected?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes. What we are proposing to do is close that entire area to the public oyster season for a period of two years. Now we normally wouldn't close that entire area, because we could possibly go in and buoy that. But in this particular area, roughly 80 percent, when we did our site assessments, right after Hurricane Ike, and 80 percent of these reef areas have been impacted. And anecdotally, we even heard that really last season there weren't just a few boats in there.

So in addition, what we are going to be doing right now, and as we are moving forward in time, is doing site assessments of those public reef areas that are in there, and determining which restoration method will work best. If under Hurricane Ike disaster relief, if we find that the sediment is less than six inches, we believe we can basically hire oyster fishermen to go in, remove their bags, and basically, kind of a plowing motion. They basically let their drags, dredges drop, go over that reef area, and it will bring that culture material back to the top.

And so within the context of that disaster relief grant, we have some money set aside for that activity. If it is greater than six inches of siltation, sediment overload, we are going to have to go in and use a similar kind of culture replacement option.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: What is the status of this large public reef area?

MR. RIECHERS: We believe it is 80 percent impacted right now. So you know, even though we are closing a larger area, we believe that we would be back here closing that area if we didn't do it right now for this other reef area anyhow. So you know, we think we can go ahead and do that. Do our site evaluations and hopefully in the two-year period, get that reclamation work done in that area.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: In oyster leases, what goes on there that you all ‑‑ what are we going to do?

MR. RIECHERS: Relative to the oyster leases, basically, those folks have already been on those leases and tried to remove that siltation or sediment overload already. So they basically are back in business. Now relative to what goes on there is, we permit those to both transplant the polluted oysters to their lease and then we also permit that harvest. So you know, that activity can still go on. And certainly, we work really closely with law enforcement when those activities are ongoing so that you know, everyone knows what is going on out there, and why those boats would be out there, and to ensure that they only work on their leases during that time period.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How are these leases delineated in a place. I mean, how do you differentiate one area from another?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, there are actually, they are surveyed and platted, just like you would another parcel of land, through the General Land Office and it is filed at the county level. There haven't been any leases issued in many years now, over 20 years. This was a program that started quite some time ago. But basically, it is just like any other kind of deed in that respect.

MR. SMITH: Robin, I think a question again, if I could, are they marked by buoys, or just ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: Oh, I am sorry. Yes. They are marked by buoys, yes.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: No barbed wire fences out here.

MR. RIECHERS: No. The leaseholders are required to have them marked by buoys and maintain those buoys.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You know, I am a Panhandle boy, I don't know how that works.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Your request does not include a request to close the leased areas. Is that right?

MR. RIECHERS: That is correct.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But if 80 percent of the bay is affected, and we are trying to restore the whole bay, why wouldn't we consider closing for those as well, and extending the lease by two years, or abating the rent or both in order to achieve better results in the entire bay area?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, I will try to answer that in two ways. One is by them actually transplanting oysters to that, and then those oysters creating a spat set as well. We can actually maybe help the spat set in that area, and actually get more spat set, which is juvenile oyster setting on that culture material that we are trying to create there. So that is one way.

And the other way is, you know, those folks, we can still allow them to work those leases through that permitting process. So their leases have already, they have already worked those leases, and tried to get that culture material back up already. You know, they were out doing that very quickly after the storm. So they are actually ready to work those leases. They can go ahead and do that. It is the public reef areas that we haven't been able to really go in and assess completely yet, and work yet.

Again, our preliminary assessment says that they were about 80 percent affected. But we are going to go in with our site scan sonar work, and the other work that we are doing and actually determine that sediment load and what reclamation will work best.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robin, how did we pick this 20 acres. You may have mentioned that, but the 20 acres?

MR. RIECHERS: It was a site that was silted over in the 1970s due to shell-dredging activity.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.

MR. RIECHERS: It has a shell base at the bottom of it. It is covered up now. So we think we can ‑‑ it will actually hold a reef up there, and it was targeted when we had the Katrina and Rita money, to allow us to go in and try to create some restoration.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That is a more effective target area than the larger blue to the west.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, when we targeted I am not saying it is more effective when we targeted. It was long before we had the issues in the blue area to the west. And certainly, that blue area to the west now with the Hurricane Ike money will be part of our reclamation effort there.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Bivins.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What percentage is this area of the entire oyster industry in the Gulf, or in the Texas Gulf?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, Galveston Bay makes up 50 percent and of course, East Bay makes up a pretty good chunk of that 50 percent there, there in our area.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So it is kind of the heart of the ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: It is significant, I will put it that way. It is certainly significant.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Falcon.

COMMISSIONER FALCON: Robin, what is the lease money, where does this particular money go?

MR. RIECHERS: That money actually is paid to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and goes into our revenue structure.

COMMISSIONER FALCON: Do you know how much that is, per year?

MR. RIECHERS: It is $6 per acre, so six times the $2,800. Basically $12,000 to $13,000, $14,000, something in that neighborhood.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Robin. All right. I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Committee Item Number 3, Migratory Game Bird Proclamation. Early season regs. Corey Mason.

MR. MASON: Good morning. For the record, I am Corey Mason, Webless Migratory Game Bird Program leader. I am going to provide an update on early season proposals and provide a summary of these proposals. We have three possible options for September tea season, a 16-day season, a nine-day season and a closed season. The length of the season is determined by breeding population surveys. We will not know which package will be given to us by the Fish and Wildlife Service until after the June service regulations committee meeting.

If offered the 16-day season, we are suggesting running September 12 through the 22nd, the 27th, and the nine-day season, September 19 through the 27th. Here is an illustration of what we are proposing. The 16-day option would run the last two weeks and last three full weekends here, in September. And the nine-day option, the last week and two weekends of September, these are the proposed days for rails, gallinule, snipe, and woodcock. There are no changes proposed for these species. These are just calendar adjustments from last year.

You will notice that the rail and gallinules, we have attempted to run this concurrent with the early September teal season. But once again, we do not know the final ruling on the dates that will be offered regarding the September teal season. The one thing you might note is the consistent opening and closing date of woodcock season. The reason for this being, is we are allowed 45 days for woodcock season, the latest date being January 31. So we run the calendar back into the calendar 45 days, which gives us that consistent opening date of December 18.

We have several changes this year proposed for dove. One is the adoption of an adaptative harvest management season structure strategy for dove, which results in a 70-day season, and 15-bird bag statewide. Proposing to move the south zone opening to the Friday nearest September 20th but no earlier than the 17th. And also proposing to adjust a portion of the special white wing dove area boundaries specifically in Jim Hogg and Starr Counties.

Currently the existing federal frameworks state that the 20th is the earliest opening date that is allowed in the south zone. Commission policy has been in the past, to open dove season on a Friday, the first Friday after the 20th, unless the 20th falls on a Saturday. So in effect in most years, we have opened about three days later than federal frameworks allow, and as late as the 25th. We notice that this year, that the 20th falls on a Sunday. So under the current structure we would open this year on the 25th, on that Friday following.

This year we are proposing that the south zone open on a Friday nearest the 20th but not earlier than the 17th. The Service has heard this proposal and has received it favorably, and we are expecting that it be offered to us in the latter part of June after the SRC meeting. So this year, instead of opening on the 25th, we are proposing that we open on the 18th. Next year, the 20th falls on a Monday, so we would be proposing then under that structure, that it open on Friday the 17th.

These are the proposed dates for all zones. With ten new additional dates in the north zone, if you will notice that there is a proposed late season segment there, that December 26th through January 9th. This is proposed to run concurrently with the central zone late season segment. And once again, the south zone will open on the 18th, we are proposing instead of the 25th this year. For the special white wing dove area, September 5th, and 6th, and 12th, and 13th are the early four days allowed. These are half-day hunts from noon to sunset. And these are the Saturday, Sundays of the first two weekends.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, with the adoption of the new AHMC season structure would result in a 15-bird statewide. That would not apply to these early four days in the special white wing dove area, because this is a special season. So for statewide consistency and for law enforcement simplicity, we have approached the Service since the last Commission meeting, and asked them to consider enabling us to offer a 15-bird bag during these early four days. The Service has viewed this favorably, and we anticipate it will be offered to us as well.

The four and the two there you see during the early four days, that is a species restriction on mourning dove. This is not something new. Up to 15 birds in the aggregate, only four of which can be up to mourning dove. And the two white tip is a statewide regulation. Once the general season opens September the 18th, there are no further restrictions on mourning dove, just an aggregate bag of 15 birds total.

The Service is also reviewing a proposal to adjust a portion of the boundary of the special white wing dove area. This area is proposed in Jim Hogg and Starr counties, and reason for this being is these areas are not as high production areas for white wing dove as other portions of the special white wing dove area. These areas are more representative of mourning dove habitat. It is being proposed that they are removed and would be replaced into the south zone, and that they would fall under south zone dates and bags at that time. This is a close-up of that area. The black line coming out Hebronville south there is that FM 1017 for point of reference. The yellow area indicates the area that would be removed from the special white wing dove area.

These are the proposed dates for falconry season. Bag limit during these is three. Please remember that this is in addition to the general season; falconry can be used during the general season. This is just simply the falconry-only season.

This is a summary of the public comment that we have received to the website, and then direct emails to us. You can see that greater than 90 percent are in favor of the proposals here being offered. This is a summary of the public comment from public meetings that were held recently across the state. You can see that basically, there are ‑‑ it is all in favor of, regarding 15 bird, 70 days, boundary change and under ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Are these total votes?

MR. MASON: I am sorry.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Are these total votes?

MR. MASON: Yes.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. MASON: The service will not issue their early season framework decision until late June, because there is not a Commission meeting between July and early August. The Executive Director would utilize rule-making authority delegated under commission under 31 Texas Administrative Code 65.313, to adopt early season proposals and rules which allows them to take effect before the opening day of dove season, September 1. With that, I would be happy to take any questions that you have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks. Are there any questions?

Commissioner Duggins?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What day of the week does the south zone end, the 17th of January. What day is that? Sunday?

MR. MASON: I am not sure. Let's see here.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: When we discussed this, we talked about it ending on the Sunday immediately preceding the Martin Luther King holiday.

MR. MASON: Yes, sir. We had that as a scoping meeting, and one of the things that is not presented here, is we had an additional portion to our public meetings, an additional thing that we were going to put on the website about scoping issues for the next year, regulation changes.

So we put that out there for available comment, and one of the questions that we asked is that we asked the public if it were more important for a consistent opening date of that last segment the day after Christmas or a consistent closing date. And we are currently receiving comment on that, related to that specific thing to see if it is more important in the eyes of the hunters for that December 26th opening or consistent closing date. And that is where that stands right now.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But do you know what day the 17th is?

MR. MASON: I do not know offhand right now.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: It is a Sunday.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So that would be an August decision?

MR. SMITH: This is a Sunday, so I think that accomplishes what his question is asking. But I think we will continue to scope this question, is what Corey is saying. Yes.

MR. MASON: When you tend to open these seasons either on Friday or Saturday and close on a Sunday, but whenever we have splits, sometimes in the middle of the week, we don't always result in a Sunday closure.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have got it.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Corey, thank you. We appreciate it. I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Item 4, Raptor Proclamation. Matt Wagner.

MR. SMITH: Actually, we have still got Dave Morrison on the late season waterfowl.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Oh, yes. Sorry. Of course we do. Dave, sorry.

MR. MORRISON: Good morning. My name is Dave Morrison. I am the Waterfowl Program leader for the Wildlife Division. And this morning, I am going to be presenting to you season dates, proposed season dates for the 2009-2010 for ducks, geese, merganser, cranes and all these other late season migratory species.

Before we get started though, I would like to tell you that these seasons are based on a liberal duck package of 74 days, a season that can run no later than January 31, and a six-bird bag limit. Understand that the information that we need to formalize the frameworks through the Fish and Wildlife Service will not be collected. We are collecting it now, but we will not have a final decision on what package we will be offered until late July. Should the package come back as something other than a liberal season, then a lot of these things are going to have to be adjusted pretty dramatically.

With respect to changes this year, hunter's choice probably will not be an option. So we are going to have to be looking at a conventional bag limit. We are looking at an earlier closing date than what the frameworks allow for in Texas. By giving up days, we just change it when we close the season. We are also considering a modification to the youth hunting season as well as we are suggesting a proposed change in the sandhill crane season structure.

This is what the dates would look like and what the staff would recommend to this Commission with respect to the duck season as the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. We are looking at a youth season of October 7, 17th through the 18th. The general gun season that was run October 24th and 25th closed for a few days, and reopened on Friday October 30th and run to January 24th.

So what that season would look like on a calendar with the gray-shaded areas being the youth hunting season, yellow being what the seasons staff would recommend, and that highlighted red date is the last date that the framework will allow for underage level package. The staff is recommending that we do not run until the 31st.

In the north and south zone, this is what a season would look like, with an October 24, 25 youth only season. General gun season is from October 31st through November 29th, which would be the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Close down for a couple of weeks, reopen on December 12, and run through January 24th. Again, this is what it would look like on the calendar, with the gray-shaded area being youth hunt, yellow being what staff would recommend with respect to the duck season, running to the 24th.

And again, not running to the end of the framework. I would say that if the seasons were shifted to run to the end of the framework, that puts this whole thing back about a week, and the opening day of the duck season and deer season would fall on the same day of November 7th. We do not suggest that if the season for the regular season change, moving that youth hunt.

We are trying to keep that youth waterfowl season separate from the youth deer season. So any changes that would be made to the duck season, we are proposing, or suggesting that we leave that youth season right where it is, so it does not have a conflict with youth deer season.

One major change this year is going to be the hunter's choice. You may recall that several years ago, we had closed or partially closed seasons on species like pintails and canvasback. That was something that the Central Flyway never did really like, so the Central Flyway worked together with the Fish and Wildlife Service and developed what was called the hunter's choice bag limit. The hunter's choice bag limit, one of the key components was the aggregate bag of pintails, mallard hens, mottled ducks and canvasbacks. To keep the season open the entire season length, but you can only take one of those in the aggregate per day.

We had a three-year study that ended last year. This year, we will be taking that information, analyzing the data, and determining did hunter's choice actually have an impact when looking at these species, that may need some extra protection. We're going to find out how it compares to a season-long season, or a season within a season. Next spring, during the next regulatory process, we will take that information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lay it on the table, and say okay folks, this is what we have. At that time, the Service will determine, is hunter's choice a viable option?

But for this year, we do not believe ‑‑ there is an outside chance, but more than likely, we will be going to a conventional bag limit. This is what a conventional bag limit would look like in the upcoming season. A bag limit of six birds, with species and sex restrictions as indicated. One of the changes is, we have three wood ducks. That is different than it has been in the past.

Those species in red, any time you go to a conventional bag limit, there is always the opportunity that you could have a closed or partially closed season. Those species in red are the ones that probably, if something were to happen, would be the ones that would be looked at for that partially closed, or closed season. There would be a six-bird bag limit. This is the season, the bag limit structure we had prior to hunter's choice, with the one exception being the three wood ducks. Understand that there are two options here. When the Service issues its final framework, Texas will have one option; hunter's choice or conventional bag limit.

Moving on to the goose seasons. This is what the goose season that is being recommended or proposed by the staff would look like in the west zone. An opening of November 7 to February 7. The daily bag limit of 20 in the aggregate for white geese. For dark geese; four Canadas and one white-fronted goose. The possession limit on dark geese would be twice the daily bag limit. For white geese, there is no possession limit.

We are also suggesting a light goose conservation order on February 8, which opens the day after the last day of the goose season. In the east zone, these are what the dates look like. There is a slight change from what you have in your packet, because during the course of the public hearings that we went to, we heard some things, and we have modified the package as a result. Texas is basically offered a 107 day for both white geese, the light geese and Canada geese.

Historically, and in the recent past, we have shortened that season to take advantage of the light goose conservation order. This year, your packet shows it running to the 31st. However, during the course of the public hearings, we heard that they wanted the light goose season to close the day after duck season to allow them to open a conservation season as early as possible. In response to the few comments that we had, the staff is suggesting that we go ahead and close the goose season just like we have in the past, and run a conservation order, starting the day after duck season closes.

Right in front of geese, it is a little bit different, because we only have 72 days to work with. All these seasons we are trying to open concurrent with the duck season. So they are all going to open the same day that duck season opens. But because we only have 72 days for white-fronted goose hunting, it does have to close a little bit earlier than both the light and the Canada goose season. The daily bag limit will be just like the west zone, 20 aggregate for white geese, no possession limit.

For dark geese, it will be three Canada goose and two white-fronted geese per day, with possession limit of twice the daily bag limit. As I mentioned, the conservation order would open the day after duck season closes. Again, this is a little bit changed from what you have in the packet, with January 25 versus what you saw in the packet effective February 1. This is in response to some of the comments we got at the public hearing.

Sandhill cranes, we have three zones in the State of Texas. In Zone A and B, we can open September 1 through February 28th. In Zone A, we are suggesting a season very similar to last year's; simple calendar adjustments from November 7 through February 7th with a bag limit of three. Zone B, that season opens three weeks later, even though we are offering the same number of days.

But understand that Texas has made the decision to delay that opening for three weeks, to allow any whoopers migrating through that area to get in and out of that area and down on Aransas before we open that season. Zone C is where we are having a little bit of a change from last year. Fish and Wildlife Service has a framework that allows us up to 37 days for sandhill crane hunting. But tied back to the conservation order, we won't have a light goose conservation order, all migratory bird seasons have to be closed.

If in fact, we want to open light goose conservation season the day after the duck season closes, it means we would give up seven days of crane hunting in Zone C. It would be open from December 26th through January 24th. There is not a lot of crane hunters down there. There are a few. But this is something that we believe that the goose hunters have really wanted to open that season the day after duck season.

Suggested dates for the 2009-2010 falconer's season. In the north and south zones, it would be January 25th through February 8th. For the High Plains Mallard Management Unit there is no falconry season, simply because we have used the four 107 exposure days allowed for waterfowl hunting during the course of the year. With that, I end this, and take any questions you may have.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I understand. Any questions? COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What is your recommendation between the two bags, the hunter's choice and the conventional bag? If you had a choice.

MR. MORRISON: If I had a choice, based on information, the Central Flyway conducted a survey of all ten states. And when you look at the information, the preference of duck hunters, both in hunter's choice states and even in states that have not experienced hunter's choice, they prefer hunter's choice.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, sure.

MR. MORRISON: Because it is a simpler regulation.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes.

MR. MORRISON: But until we can get this data analyzed, and provide it to the Service, that okay, hunter's choice does not dramatically change overall harvest. Now the gold standard, they say, okay. We will have a season within a season. So the Central Flyway view, and my view also is that that should not necessarily be the gold standard.

Let's look at another option. Because we are worried about hunters, and simplicity for hunters. And that is the reason hunter's choice was developed. A much simpler approach to dealing with these species that may not be able to handle high harvest structure. But yes, sir. I would prefer hunter's choice. And I think in Texas, you do see, even in that survey that was done, a high percentage, 60 to 65 percent of the people in Texas prefer hunter's choice over the conventional bag limit.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So now, I can authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Item 4, Raptor Population, Federal Certification of Parks and Wildlife Falconry Rules. Permission to publish. Matt.

MR. WAGNER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commission. My name is Matt Wagner; I am program director for Wildlife Diversity. We are seeking permission to publish amendments to our falconry proclamation. With me this morning is Matt Reidy. Matt is a wildlife biologist for us down in Floresville, a very active falconer. He serves as a liaison to the Falconry Raptor Council.

To give you some background, Chapter 49 of Parks and Wildlife Code requires the Department to issue falconry permits for possession of native raptors. The state regulations of course, must comply with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements. The Fish and Wildlife Service has recently revised federal falconry regs to give states administrative authority for falconry permitting. This administrative authority requires certification of state rules by September 1, 2009. In some instances, the current state rules are at variance with the new federal rules.

So the proposed amendment would make provisional alterations to temporarily eliminate conflicts with federal falconry rules. And this will allow for the certification of the state permit program while our state falconry regulations are revised. The Department is currently working with the Falconry and Raptor Council to draft new state falconry regulations which should be completed in six months. And with us in the room this morning are Steve Olsen and Sheldon Nicole, both with the Falcon and Raptor Council. So staff requests permission to publish the amendment as presented in the Texas Register for public comment. Are there any questions maybe Matt can help us with?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: The federal guidelines are more restrictive. I have read through them, and am I reading that correctly? I mean they ‑‑

MR. WAGNER: Yes, sir. Yes, they are.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: The changes are more restrictive, but they are supported by the falconry community. Is that right?

MR. WAGNER: Yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.

MR. WAGNER: Basically, they provide a lot more clarity. And we want to adopt their regulations. But there are some regulations that are not germane to Texas, about six pages worth that we wouldn't of course include. COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And how many permittees do we have in Texas?

MR. WAGNER: Roughly, about 200.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that number growing?

MR. REIDY: Yes. It is actually, I think it is closer to 350 now, of licensed falconers in the state.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That is great.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: What would that have been ten years ago, just to give us some idea?

MR. REIDY: Well, I started about 12 years ago, so I probably didn't know back then. But maybe Steve Olsen or Sheldon Nicole may be able to tell us better that.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Very quickly?

MR. REIDY: How many ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Why don't you just speak up.

MR. REIDY: How many permits were there ten years ago?

SPEAKER: Ten years ago, less than 100.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And this would provide for a single permit, as opposed to both, right? As long as the state is in compliance with federal guidelines, then the state can issue it?

MR. REIDY: Yes. The Feds are pretty much trying to get out of that system.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Good. Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Gosh, actually some simplification.

MR. REIDY: That is the goal.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: That is the goal.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And is this option offered in any of the surrounding states?

MR. REIDY: All states. All states need to certify as soon as they can. All states that have a falconry program.

MR. WAGNER: Basically, by 2014, Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer be permitting falconers.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Really.

MR. REIDY: Yes.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, that will really simplify the process.

MR. WAGNER: Yes. And it will be cheaper, too. Because falconers today have to have the state permit which has a fee, and the federal fee.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So the difference between what we are doing temporarily and what we will ultimately adopt or propose in six months or so, it obviously still has to be consistent with the federal guidelines.

MR. WAGNER: Correct.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But there may be other things that are specific to Texas that you might recommend. Is that the difference?

MR. WAGNER: Well, basically, we want to go through the certification as early as possible, using our state regulations, but then deferring to the federal regulations where they are more restrictive. And then in six months, we will completely revise our state falconry regs to be consistent with those federal regs.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you very much. Any other questions?

(No response.)

MR. WAGNER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. So, no further questions or discussion, I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period. Let me find the right spot here. Okay.

Item number 5, Exotic Species, Water Spinach Regulations. Permission to publish proposed changes in the Texas Register. Earl.

MR. CHILTON: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. For the record, my name is Earl Chilton. I am Aquatic Habitat Enhancement program director for Inland Fisheries Division. Water spinach is an exotic species that is native to India and Southeast Asia. It is part of the morning glory family. It is within the morning glory family. And it is the same family that includes sweet potatoes. It has been cultivated, since at least 300 A.D. in China.

And it has high protein content. It can be used as animal feed. In addition, Vietnamese doctors tell me that it has got iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, they are pretty high on the product. In Texas, we have known about the ‑‑ it was one of the first plants that was placed on our exotic species list, in the early '90s. Since I wasn't here at that time, it is hard or difficult to say exactly why. But I presume it is because of the high growth rate. It grows very fast. And at the time, the herbicides that were used weren't very effective on it. But as you will see a little later, that has changed somewhat.

And of course, it may have been due to problems that it has caused in tropical areas around the world as well. In 2003, law enforcement became aware that water spinach was actually being grown and sold in the Asian community and elsewhere. And that included such places as HEB, Whole Foods, basically, it was being sold around the state. At that time, we, in conjunction with law enforcement, conducted what we termed a sting operation. We confiscated several hundred pounds of it in the Houston area. We gave people warnings. We told them that it was illegal.

At that time, we learned that about the extent of the growing. At that time, it looked like there were about 60 growers. And in some cases, they were harvesting some 50,000 pounds a week. So we met with the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce. At the meeting there were at least 200 people there, Vietnamese and Cambodian doctors testified how good it was. We learned that there were several types of it. This was a type that probably didn't grow very well outside of greenhouses and so forth. Most of the productions taking place near the Rosharon area, just outside of Houston, from what they call the Village.

In terms of the origin of the Village, the founders apparently escaped the Khmer Rouge about 30 years ago. They migrated to the Houston area, and began to grow the plant in greenhouses. There is a good reason why they are growing it in greenhouses, and I will talk about that a little later. This is an image of what the greenhouses look like. Currently, there are about 80 growers. They employ over 200 people. And a conservative estimate from the producer suggests that it is at least a million-dollar industry at this time.

It should be noted that it is advantageous for the producers to harvest water spinach before it goes to seed. Apparently, once they allow it to go to seed, productivity is significantly decreased, and in some cases, the plants die, and they have to start all over again. We have conducted examinations. In 2003, we conducted surveys in and around the area. And we focused on the Rosharon area, and in downtown Houston. We learned that there were rumors that people may have been growing water spinach in their backyards, so we followed those up too. We were unable to find any growing in anybody's back yard at that time. Despite the number of hurricanes we have had over the last few years, you would think that there would be fragments, seeds, and so forth.

We have been unable to find water spinach growing in the wild anywhere outside of the greenhouses. We looked in the ditches, bayous, creeks, and again, in the Houston area. And it just wasn't there at this time. It is only growing in greenhouses. And no water spinach was even found in the area around the greenhouses that had been destroyed in the hurricanes.

Well, and by the way, this is what it looks like it. You can eat it as a vegetable. After we were unable to find water spinach growing outside of the greenhouses, Mr. Durocher asked me to investigate the possibility of simply taking it off of the prohibited list. And in order to do that, we thought the first step would be to conduct a risk assessment, similar to risk assessments that have been done in other states, such as Oregon. And that is what we did.

This is some of the information that we uncovered. Water spinach requires, according to these researchers, requires a mean daily temperature in excess of 77 degrees. That is 25 degrees C. The average daily temperature in Houston, even though we think of Houston of being pretty hot is actually 68.8 degrees. And the average daily temperature in none of Texas' top 20 cities exceeds 77 degrees. So it is, even in Brownsville, the mean daily temperature is 73 degrees. So it is unlikely that the plant would be able to grow outside of greenhouses, here in Texas.

Currently, water spinach is established in three states. The larger map makes it look like it is all over California and Florida. That is why I wanted to show some maps of California and Florida. In fact, there are only small beds of water spinach in only two counties, in both California and Florida.

In Florida, I talked to officials in Florida here recently. It is, according to the last survey, it was found in no public water bodies, and just a few retention ditches. And the person that was responsible for water spinach control told me at this time, it was actually easy to control. When they find it, they can spray it with either Diquat or Imazapyr.

It is in Hawaii on several of the islands in Hawaii, and we think that is probably because Hawaii is tropical and has a higher mean daily temperature than we have here in Texas. Despite being cultivated for nearly 30 years and having wide distribution throughout the state, including sales in HEB and Whole Foods, water spinach hasn't really become established anywhere outside of production facilities. The risk assessment findings included the fact that again, water spinach had been cultivated for 30 years, and we haven't been able to find it established in the wild. Texas climate is a poor match when compared to climate in areas where water spinach is native.

We actually ran computer-simulated models. I had the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service help me with that. And they are a very low match for almost all of Texas and where water spinach is native. Again, temperature data indicate that it would be difficult for water spinach to survive outside of the greenhouses year round. And that is probably why even though people may have been trying to grow it in their backyards, they weren't able to do it, because of our winters. Water spinach hasn't exhibited a propensity for rapid spread.

According to the person I talked to in Florida, again, who is in charge of water spinach control and other vegetation control, he said it is not on the rise. It is not spreading. And water spinach according to the Florida folks, is controllable with herbicides. Therefore, our recommendations are to ‑‑ that water spinach should remain on the restricted list here in Texas. That is because we would like to be conservative, since it is on the national noxious weed list, just in case something happened, we would like to keep it on our list. This way we know where it is permitted. We know where to find it, basically. But we believe that people should be allowed to cultivate it and eat it.

Commercial cultivation should take place only in TPWD-permitted facilities. And those facilities would be inspected by TPWD staff. And possession for personal consumption should be unrestricted. We would like wholesale and retail outlets to be allowed to possess water spinach and sell it for personal consumption only, if they retain invoices from permitted growers within Texas, or from persons selling water spinach legally from outside Texas. The reason we have included the legally from outside of Texas is we can get into trouble allowing only sale from Texas growers and not from outside of Texas, legal trouble.

So we would request today that permission to publish proposed changes in the Texas Register for public comment. If we were allowed to publish those changes, we plan on working with Law Enforcement Division personnel to help ensure the most effective wording for those changes. Are there any questions?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Earl. I would hope there would be some discussion about this. Just for clarification, the inspection sites, then, if we went forward with this, would just be two areas in the state, or are there multiple areas, in terms of trying to control it and inspect it efficiently.

MR. CHILTON: Currently, the only production facilities we know about are in the Rosharon area. As I said, there are 80 growers, but they are all ‑‑ pretty much, they are all in the same community. And so far, we have managed, we have inspected about 42, I think it is 42 of the facilities.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: One other question. Can it grow in you know, waterways and rivers and things where you could not control it with herbicides?

MR. CHILTON: Where, I am sorry?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Could it potentially grow in a river system or in water?

MR. CHILTON: It could potentially grow in a river system.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: An area where we couldn't control it.

MR. CHILTON: But we should be able to, yes. With the herbicides that are available today would control it. But even should it get out into the river system like that, because of our temperatures, it may survive during the summer, but it should be killed in the winter.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It wouldn't grow. All right. Questions? Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You said that there was a survey in 2003. Has there been any survey since then?

MR. CHILTON: In conjunction with the inspection of the 42 facilities, the biologists from our Bryan office looked in that whole area around Rosharon to see if he could find any water spinach growing outside of the production facilities, and he was unable to find any water spinach growing outside of production facilities as well. That was just a few weeks ago.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: How big is what you are referring to as the Rosharon area?

MR. CHILTON: It is a few square miles.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So we haven't had any survey outside of a few square miles in at least six years.

MR. CHILTON: Well, we ‑‑ except for our public water body surveys. All of our public water bodies are surveyed on a rotating basis. So we are certainly ‑‑ we don't have them in any public water bodies. And we don't have them in any of the area around where it is being grown.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, this concerns me, because I went back and focusing on your comments last May, you said, on the biological side, once you introduce the organisms, they are there. Which is consistent with something that Bob Lusk said back in April 2004, that ‑‑ I would take a native species over to Bob at the beginning of the week and discussed that the lack of winters makes the problem worse. Now you say the temperatures in Texas aren't sufficiently high in the winters for this to live. But have you taken into account some of the projections in warming trends, that at least I heard at the A & M conference, where temperatures in this state over the next 20 years are projected to increase substantially?

MR. CHILTON: That is one of the reasons we wanted to take the conservative approach and not try to take if off of the restricted list, but allow it to be grown with a permit. So we could keep track of it. If something happens, we would then know where it is at, and be able to control it. And potentially stop production if necessary.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And last year, you referred the Commission to a website, texasinvasives.org. And I have given everybody a copy of the printout that is on there. And it shows Parks and Wildlife as one of the partners. And it says this plant can grow up to four inches a day, which is the same thing as water hyacinth. And 84 tons of biomass per acre in nine months. I mean, it seems to me that this is a pretty substantial risk that staff is asking the Commission to take. Would you agree with that?

MR. CHILTON: Well, let me address that in two ways. The reason that that is still on the invasives.org website is that I haven't talked to Damon Waithe at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is one of the guys, the guy in charge of that. He hasn't yet seen the results of the risk analysis. So you know, I will have a chat with him after today about that. But the fact is, is that really it has been growing here totally unrestricted for 30 years, at least 30 years. And it hasn't gotten out. Presumably, that is because of the temperature.

And it has been grown, and we find it in Florida, we find it in California. And despite years of cultivation, even in Florida, it is only found in two counties. And despite the high growth rate, the high growth rate is what makes it a good plant for cultivation and for production. But presumably due to our climate, and the fact that it is easily controlled, even after 30 years or more of production, it hasn't gotten out in Florida, California or Texas. So I think the risks ‑‑ we believe the risks are relatively minimal. But we would like to keep it on our prohibited list and let it be grown with a permit just in case. We would like to take a conservative approach.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And we plan to inspect it, and if it does get out, it is in a contained area where we can apply some kind of measure to get rid of it, so we can just watch it.

MR. CHILTON: That is right. We would inspect those facilities on a regular basis and the areas around the facilities. As I said, our public water bodies are subject to surveys on a rotating basis. Some of them are actually surveyed annually, and others, every few years. But that would help us keep an eye on whether or not it had actually gotten into public waters.

And the other thing that is helping us is that the form of water spinach that they are cultivating is what they are calling an upland variety that really grows in damp soil, rather than in the water. That is maybe one of the reasons why it hasn't done well in bayous and ditches and creeks in that area. Because that particular variety doesn't do that well. It is easier for them to cultivate it in greenhouses, because it is not like a rice paddy, they don't need water, standing water. They just need damp soil.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Does your recommendation limit it to this one variety or does it allow cultivation of all varieties?

MR. CHILTON: Well at this time, we are just talking about water spinach. But typically, even in Florida, nobody tries to cultivate the more water variety, because it is more difficult to cultivate.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What I am asking though, is would the proposal if we adopt it allow cultivation of the faster growing variety?

MR. CHILTON: Yes, it would. Unless we ‑‑ we could easily modify it and put a caveat in there.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. So the proposal then is that we would modify it for that. Any problem with that?

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do you have any issue with that, putting that caveat in there? They have got a little more ‑‑ it still allows them to cultivate, but it gives the state a little more protection in the native environment. Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just want to go on the record and say I am opposed to it.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Any other questions?

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: In regard to St. Johns Salvinia or hydrilla, the problematic invasive species that we have to deal with currently, how do they propagate, or what allows them to propagate so much more avidly than for instance, this or other water species? Why do we have such a problem?

MR. CHILTON: Well, let me take them one at a time. Hydrilla is a problem for several reasons. It can reproduce in a number of different ways. It produces axial buds which can survive for about a year and remain dormant, and then germinate or sprout. It produces potato-like tubers that can remain dormant in the substrate for up to 12 years at least.

And hydrilla can also reproduce by fragmentation. And it grows for about four inches a day, as Commissioner Duggins mentioned. So what happens is, that even when you think that you have hydrilla under control, you have got those tubers remaining dormant in the substrate, and it can come back at any time. Additionally, drawdowns tend to make hydrilla mad, so more of the tubers sprout when you conduct a drawdown. And we don't have a lot of water. Water is a big issue in Texas. So if you are going to use a drawdown, then you need two drawdowns. Nobody wants to use that much water.

Additionally, hydrilla is difficult to harvest, and herbicides are expensive. Some of them cost hundreds of dollars per acre to use. Hydrilla is also one of those that can get caught up on boat motors and trailers and taken all around the state. So that is one of the problems.

With giant Salvinia, it is a floating species, and it can double. It grows even faster than hydrilla. It can double about once a week. Additionally, it is a floating fern so it can live out of water for awhile. And so it can literally get caught between the boat and the trailer and survive there for a few days until someone goes to another reservoir, and then it is off to floating again. It is such a small plant that it can get caught under the weeds and you can't even find it until it becomes a problem.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How did they get introduced to Texas?

MR. CHILTON: Well, we think hydrilla was introduced as an aquarium plant in Florida in the '50s, and it may have either been introduced as an aquarium plant in Texas, or it may have ridden over here on somebody's boat trailer or in a live well. Giant Salvinia could have come that way as well, but it is ‑‑ since it is a floating fern, it is sort of an unusual plant.

Some people like to sell it at nurseries. I have gotten phone calls from people that say a friend bought it for them, because it was an unusual plant. And within a couple of weeks, it had completely filled up their pond. They didn't know what to do. So it is being sold, and in some cases, over the internet. It is being sold in nurseries in some cases. One nursery, we found a few years ago, had 400 cash receipts for giant Salvinia. But it too can ride. There is a lot of it riding on boat trailers.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. And how long, refresh my memory, how long has the water spinach been growing in California and Florida?

MR. CHILTON: Well, it has been growing in Florida for approximately the same length of time as it has been growing here, about 30 years. I don't want to make up anything. So I don't remember exactly how long it has been in California.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Did they export it?

MR. CHILTON: Florida does. I am not sure about California. I think they do too, but I can check for you. But I know Florida exports it for commercial sales.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So local retailers can source it from those two states, rather than Texas, if necessary.

MR. CHILTON: It is possible.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Let me also note that in our Sunset Bill, the number one issue the Legislature and the Committee set out was invasive aquatics, which is the reason, in my view to be particularly cautious. Two, again, the website he refers to says that this species continues to be introduced by immigrant communities. And I would also note that it reproduces not just by seed, but vegetatively, according to this. I don't think that it is a risk worth taking.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, we are watching it and monitoring it closely. And we don't have any indication that it is spreading.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes. But we are talking about now facilitating possession of it. We evidently have not been enforcing our rules. But we are now saying it is okay to possess it. And so people can attempt to grow it on their own, or pitch out in the back, in a canal, which is where it can proliferate. So I just ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Can they grow it on their own, or is it just ‑‑

MR. CHILTON: Well, there as he said, they can have it for personal consumption.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.

MR. CHILTON: The problem with growing it on their own is that, presumably they could grow it in the house, if they wanted. But our concern would be, really isn't whether or not anybody is growing it in the house, because unless Texas warms up significantly, they are not going to be able to grow it year-round in the back yard. Our concerns would be if they were growing it in an area where it could actually get out and infest public waters, and become a problem there.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure.

MR. CHILTON: And because of the temperature issue, it looks like that is not going to happen, and it hasn't happened in 30 years. And with totally unrestricted growth, rumors that people have been growing it in their backyard. We actually went to the Asian community in downtown Houston and looked in backyards where people had told us they were trying to grow it, and it wasn't there. Apparently, it just can't survive outside of greenhouses here. And that is according to the researchers as well.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks. Any other discussion? Questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thanks Earl. If there are no further questions or discussion, I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

MR. CHILTON: Thank you. Committee Item 6, Deer Tagging and Documentation Requirements. Clayton Wolf. You can't forget about deer.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: No. They can eat that spinach. We don't need more deer either, do we? We need bigger deer.

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Clayton Wolf. I am the Director of the Big Game Program in the Wildlife Division. And I have good news. I have a very brief item. Just a little bit of follow-up from our March meeting.

One proposal that we asked to make modifications to or relating to deer tagging, and when tagging requirements cease. I would like to remind folks, or let you know that our White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee has been working on numerous issues for well over a year, almost close to two years now dealing with waste of game, definitions for quartering, and some statutes related to cold storage processing facilities. And Senator Hegar during this last session, actually filed legislation, two bills. Senate Bill 1121 and 1122 that actually would implement almost all of the recommendations of the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee. And I know that 1121 has been signed by the Governor.

So that will be effective September 1, those new statutes. And 1122 has been sent to the Governor. And we anticipate that it will get signed or passed. So most of those changes have ‑‑ will go into effect September 1. This Commission does have rule-making authority to amend or modify tagging requirements, so we chose to use rule-making authority to deal with the tagging issue that was brought up at the White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee. Currently, carcass tagging requirements cease when a carcass is at a final destination. It is processed for cooking or storage, and it is beyond quarters.

And you may recall that, technically, this could be a problem for someone who quartered a deer and put the whole quarters in their freezer, and left the bone in, in that the tagging requirements technically still remain in effect. And so we had previously, or at least the first time, proposed that carcass-tagging requirements would cease when a carcass was at a final destination and processed for cooking or storage and at least one quarter was removed.

After we proposed this, we became aware of a couple of issues. First, there was a question of whether other documentation requirements ceased at the same time, that being the WRD requirements. And also, proof of sex requirements. And then also, our Law Enforcement Division brought forth some concerns regarding just the removal of one quarter and had some other alternatives to present. And so we took those recommendations, and with your permission, revised the proposal that carcass tagging, wildlife resource document and proof of sex requirements would all cease when a carcass was at a final destination and the four quarters, hindquarters and backstraps had been completely severed from the carcass.

Additionally, the proposal states that tagging, WRD and proof of sex requirements cease at a cold storage or processing facility only if the carcass has been logged in the record book. And a record book is required at that facility. Some of this legislation I spoke of actually clarifies that some facilities require a record book, and some do not. And so if a person took a carcass to a facility where a record book is required, they would have to log that in there before tagging requirements would cease. As far as public comment on this, we received 72 comments. 97 percent agree; 3 percent disagree. And we had no specific rationale provided for the disagreement.

Additionally, we took this back to our White-tailed Deer Advisory Committee and we presented that to them. And we got full concurrence with this proposal as it is published right now. And with that, I will be glad to take any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Clayton. We appreciate you.

MR. WOLF: Okay.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item 7, Public Hunting Lands Approval, Open Season on Public Hunting Lands and Public Hunting Activities on State Parks. Linda Campbell.

MS. CAMPBELL: Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, I am Linda Campbell. I am the program director for Private Lands and Public Hunting in the Wildlife Division. I am here today to request your action on establishing an open season on public hunting lands. And to present proposed public hunting activities on state parks.

Establishing an open season on public hunting lands allows the Department to hold public hunts during the upcoming hunting season, beginning September 1, 2009. Also, statute requires the Commission to approve public hunting activities on units of the State Park system. In your Commission booklets you were provided with the proposed State Park hunts for the 2009-2010 season. There are a total of 1,676 hunt positions proposed on state parks, of which 253 are youth positions.

This year, three state park units return to the public hunting program. They are Pedernales Falls, Pedernales Falls Annex, and Mother Neff State Park. Also this year, there are three new state parks proposing hunts. They include Palo Duro Canyon, Lake Texana and Stephen F. Austin. Overall, there are a total of 4,971 hunt positions being offered on both state parks and Wildlife Management Areas. And of these, 1,081 are youth positions. We are down this year, on by about 581 hunt positions, primarily due to drought, extreme drought conditions throughout much of the state.

I wanted to give you just a little background, also on, in looking at the number of hunt permits offered on WMAs in state parks over the last 12 years. We see that the high was in 1999 and 2000 hunting season; 6,247 permits were offered in that year. Our 12-year average for permits offered is 5,758 permits. The number of permits available has fluctuated over this time period due to occurrences such as drought and hurricanes. And as mentioned, we are down this year to 4,971, primarily due to extended drought throughout much of the state, and also Hurricane Ike.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And the Chaparral too.

MS. CAMPBELL: And the fire, yes sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: There was a fire there.

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes. And these ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sorry I keep interrupting. You are not going to do hunting in Chaparral? What you have you all decided?

MS. CAMPBELL: No. There are proposed hunts on the Chaparral this year.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And no rain, either, have we, since really, this drought.

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes. But we, they have come back fairly nicely down there.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MS. CAMPBELL: And we do have a ‑‑ right. Yes. It is noteworthy that our drawn youth hunt positions have increased by 404 positions, compared with ten years ago. And also, we are up 193 positions compared with five years ago. So excuse me, providing opportunities for youth continue to be a focus of the public hunting program. Just also, excuse me, to let you know, we are pursuing new partnerships with county and municipal entities to introduce public hunting opportunities on open space lands, managed for watership protection in county parks. And we continue to pursue those opportunities.

Again, the main factors affecting our drawn youth hunt permits are the weather fluctuations that affect wildlife populations, drought in particular. Natural disasters such as floods, wildfire and hurricanes. And also staff available to run these drawn hunts on both state parks and wildlife management areas.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can I stop you there, though?

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because I know we also do public hunting and make deals, as you said, with municipalities and river authorities and those kind of things.

MS. CAMPBELL: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is that expanding, and how are we doing it? Because you don't show that on this list. I mean, how are we doing there? Are we having any luck with that expanding that?

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes. I mean most of our drawn hunt expansion is in the private sector. What we are trying to work with private landowners, municipalities, like I said, county parks who need the population control, that we can provide. So we are talking, all of these opportunities that come up, we are trying to pursue, to see if we can put some of this in our public hunting program, and at the same time, help them with control of populations. So that is our main expansion at this point.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And are we having expansion? I guess what I am looking for maybe eventually get some numbers to us.

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes. And I can do that. We have 100 ‑‑ I have lots of numbers here. 178 positions on the private end this year. That is only about a nine-year program. Our high on that is a little over 200. So we are up and down, but we are continuing to move up on that as well.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I am just going to add, are you getting more acreage? I guess I am trying to come up with some ‑‑ I understand that you are talking about the permits and that kind. But are we getting more acreage into the program, private, municipalities, whatever, counties? Are we getting more?

MS. CAMPBELL: We are trying, yes. On our walk-in hunting, our annual public hunting, not so much. We have lost timber company lands.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. We lost that. That was a big chunk.

MS. CAMPBELL: And we will continue to do that on our public hunting, our walk-in hunting programs.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Fine.

MS. CAMPBELL: So that is problematic. Our drawn hunts though, of course, we work with the private entities on that. And those are drawn hunts. They run the hunts. And so that would be in our draw hunt system, that we are working those opportunities.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Linda, let's see if we can ‑‑ it would be helpful to us if we could quantify total statewide opportunities, and get that information to the Commission, so we just kind of know how we are doing statewide with all of our hunt programs and opportunities.

MS. CAMPBELL: Okay. Both the walk-in program and the draw hunt program?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Sure.

MS. CAMPBELL: Okay.

MR. SMITH: And just to clarify, do you want to see that in number of positions, but also in acres leased?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes.

MR. SMITH: Okay. That we provide.

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir. We have got all those numbers, and can produce that packet for you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We are just trying to gauge expansion of opportunity.

MS. CAMPBELL: Absolutely.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That would be helpful. Thank you.

MS. CAMPBELL: Okay, a ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sorry to keep interrupting. Can I ask a second question?

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Relative to resources, our own resources, human resources. Are we doing enough, I guess, relative to one? Do you have enough people to help with this program, to help try to expand this program, and then whatever else we need, whether it is working a website or all of the issues that go with public lands.

MS. CAMPBELL: Right. Well, I can address on the human resources end, on drawn hunts, it does require human resources.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

MS. CAMPBELL: To run these hunts. You know, in the past, when, and I don't want to speak for state parks, but when they were challenged with their resources, you know, it is difficult to get the number of people needed, with all of the other jobs that they have to do to run these hunts. So drawn hunts is an issue with staff resources.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.

MS. CAMPBELL: You know, as well as just the competing interests for their time.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.

MR. SMITH: So I think the answer to that, very specifically, is, no, we don't. We are not in the best position possible to maximize that opportunity. I think everybody is doing as good a job as they absolutely can, given all of the competing priorities on their plate. You know, I think it would be helpful for this Commission to know that the Division as a whole in wildlife is going through an exercise really from the ground up to look at all of their operational priorities, and kind of revisit what is most important today that the Wildlife Division be working on.

And so, I think that is a very important exercise, that the Division is going through, that Clay is leading that team on. And obviously, this one of many topics that they are evaluating. You know, and I think what Linda was also trying to highlight, in terms of where she saw the opportunities are in the program, one, providing more opportunities to get youth out into the field. And so we have seen some market increase there. Secondly, we are in the formative stages of trying to work out partnerships with cities and counties that have had very active open space programs. And that have super abundant deer populations or hog populations that need to be controlled. We see that as a growth opportunity to provide near urban access. And so we have been meeting with municipalities. The 3,000 acres that we have on the table to acquire from the City of San Antonio to add to Government Canyon. State Parks has been looking at that as an opportunity to provide some managed hunting. So I think we have got some opportunities there that had been new. I know that the team gets this when visiting with landowners about leasing land through the drawing system, you know the requests, can the Parks and Wildlife staff manage the hunt for them. And we just don't have those kind of resources.

So there are some inherent limitations in the program. As you all recall, in our legislative appropriations request, we made a request of the Legislature for some more positions to help us in this regard, and we did not secure funding for that purpose.

MS. CAMPBELL: We are recently talking also with the National Wildlife Refuge System, when Refuge is interested. So we provide a service. And we can start to work those opportunities. I do have the information on the Chaparral drawings if you all are interested.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Great. Please.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MS. CAMPBELL: For archery on the Chaparral, 100 permits are being offered. Either sex, 60. The management, 30. So about 110 between management and javelina. Youth deer, 15 permits, youth javelina, 40. Youth deer management, 50. So a pretty good round out for the Chaparral this year. One final slide then, staff recommendation. Staff recommends that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action by the full Commission.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, in follow-up to the comments that Peter and you made, if you look at the chart for the proposed State Park hunts, you have a number of areas where you have got deer and feral hog. I have pulled two that I have some familiarity with, Atlanta and Fairfield, where there are lots of pigs. Is there a way to look at this where we could increase the opportunity for feral hog hunting?

MS. CAMPBELL: Yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And that seems to me, that is something everybody acknowledges. We need to do what we can to push the numbers back. And I consistent with your comments, both, all of which I agree with, on increasing opportunities. It seems to me that we ought to look at that.

MS. CAMPBELL: Right.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Increasing the days or the permits somehow on feral hogs.

MS. CAMPBELL: And we do look at that every year. Once our proposals are in, to look at you know, what kind of opportunities and what kind of staff are able to do that. Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Excuse me a bit, Commissioner Duggins. One of the reasons I wanted to bring it up is we have a resource issue with Texas Parks and Wildlife, with the Department. We could do a lot more hunting. So we are limited. And of course, we tried to do something with the Legislature this round, and didn't have success. So one idea I just threw at Carter, and I am soliciting ideas here, and Linda, I think that is also what the Wildlife Department is also looking at is, maybe there is a way where you can start licensing people to help take these hunts out.

Because see, one of our problems is that issue, is the human resource side of it. So maybe we can come up with some ideas here that we can either train volunteers to help do it, license people to do this. We have got to figure out ways to ‑‑

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I like your idea.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because we are finding, I think Linda and the others have done a pretty good job of finding more real estate, quote unquote, more acreage. But now our issues is ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Limited in resources.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: We are limited in the people resources to be able to do these hunts.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I like your idea of licensing an outfitter to take hog people out.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: I am just throwing out ideas at this point. Yes.

MR. SMITH: Or volunteers, or both. Bow hunters, or whatever. Yes.

MR. DABNEY: Commissioners, Walt Dabney, State Parks Director. We are looking at this pretty carefully. I was just up at Fairfield with the bow, poking Tilapia, which is a fun thing to do. It was a new adventure for me. And we looked at the hog problems. And we have got lots of hogs at Fairfield. And I talked to Mike Kleinert, the superintendent there, about doing just that. Because we are removing them. We trap them and shoot them. And of course, we have the hunt there.

The problem in a state park, unlike a WMA, is if you are going to open it to hunting in the non-hunting season when we actually have the park closed, when there are not many visitors there, and you are trying to conduct hunts, even archery hunts, when you have got visitors that you are not controlling, they are wandering all over the place, zipping through the woods on a mountain bike, or hiking or whatever they are doing, you have got some inherent issues there that are not so easy to control. And as Carter was talking about personnel challenges, and staffing, you have really got to have some people committed to this to make sure that if you are going to have these kind of things going on at the same time, that you are not setting people up to get hurt.

And so we have some great opportunities. We have some disjunct sites that we are going to look carefully at, where we can in fact, have the main part closed, and some areas open that are not in the main visitor use area, which I think could provide some great, especially feral hog-hunting opportunities. And I think realistically, we are probably talking more archery than we are talking gun hunting. Especially in a situation where you have the park open to other visitor uses.

But we are genuinely looking at this. I think it is a great opportunity. Plus, as the Chairman said, it is a resource issue. These things are just absolutely knocking us dead out there right now.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: As an example of that, in Palo Duro Canyon, they are going to now allow feral hog hunting in ‑‑ walk me through the process of how the public is going to be notified that there will be areas in that Canyon where people are hunting.

MR. DABNEY: Well, every time that we go through the hunt, there is a proclamation that is posted. It is on our website. It is probably in the local paper. Whatever it is, that says what the hunting dates are, and what the restrictions are in the park. And in many cases, the park is actually closed to other public use. That works pretty well. We have very few complaints, because it is truly in the middle of cold season in most cases. And the conflicts are not great.

And again, it is couched, first of all, as a resource issue, where we are trying to reduce ‑‑ trying to control either deer populations, hogs, other exotics, whatever it is. And secondly, certainly to provide hunting opportunities. So we don't have too many parks that we will certainly at least not have a gun hunt going on when people are out hiking trails and that kind of thing. It just can't work. And so we have a process in place.

In most cases, the hunts are controlled, where our staff literally drives the people out to the areas, either to a stand, or they have a compartment that they have to stay within, which is well marked for the day. And then we actually go out and pick them up again as well. So it is very controlled. If you had the park open to park visitation, we have got to figure out the logistics of how you would do that successfully, and again, not set someone up to ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, and there is also, I guess, in my mind, the issue of impacting potential gate revenue. Because you have got the hunters in place. And you can't allow the non-hunters entrance.

MR. DABNEY: That is absolutely true. You are talking about a very few hunters we would be able to accommodate that could displace a whole lot of traditional park users. So again, our best chance is in places where we have a disjunct location, like he called it the annex or whatever at Pedernales, where you are literally across the river. Other visitors aren't going there. We could hunt, and we will look at that. We could hunt pigs there more year-round.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Well, I guess, in my neighborhood also in Palo Duro, there is sections of the Canyon that you could totally isolate from any other pedestrian or mountain bike traffic or horse traffic for that matter. But you know, the feral hog issue is something that we are going to be addressing more and more.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And I think every opportunity we have to limit their population is something that we need to seriously look into.

MR. DABNEY: The other thing is, we have a feral animal policy, as well as an exotic animal policy. It certainly affects all of the Divisions, but State Parks is one of the biggest ones. And our folks are qualified. They have to qualify each year in resource management, weaponry, to be able to, as they see the opportunity to remove exotics or feral animals. And we do that. And we do that as low profile as possible. Our intent is not to inflame the public with the fact. But whatever kind of feral animal you are talking about has an absolute impact on what should be there naturally. And so we have a policy that is consistent in resource management with taking care of those on a daily basis.

MR. SMITH: Just one other thing I will add. This is a very timely discussion. Mark Duda, who runs Responsive Management, who does a lot of the human dimension research work for all of the fish and wildlife agencies around the country is doing a national study on public hunting opportunities. And what are the programs that are working well, what are the key barriers that we need to address, like, how do we take it to scale with leasing more land, providing your urban areas, providing mentors to get kids out into the field.

I think there are going to be some very helpful things that come out of that national study, that we ought to come back and share with you all when that is done, in the next year or two. I think the team does a really good job of trying to squeeze out every possible position they can, on the WMAs, and the parks. I mean, we definitely hear you about trying to do more ‑‑ any chance we can on the feral hogs. If we are truly going to take it to another scale with respect to the amount of acreage, that is going to have to be in concert and partnership with private landowners and having resources to lease those lands. So just ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: On the private lands, how do you target who you are going to lease to, in the private land opportunities? How do you track it?

MS. CAMPBELL: Well, we have had people that have worked with us over a number of years. We always go back to them and see if they would like to continue to work with us. We are always interested in new folks that want to come into the program. And we do have a limited budget on that.

And so we have not advertised it widely, I suppose, because we spend our money on it, our budgeted money for that. We lease hunt positions on private lands for those landowners who are interested, under a contact agreement with us, and we pay by the hunt position. The landowner sets the bag. They run the hunt. We provide the hunter with their rules. And so the landowner is in the driver's seat on that.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So the landowner does operate the hunts themselves. So it starts on a resource, a human resource area.

MS. CAMPBELL: That is correct. Yes, ma'am.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. I think that it is one area that we need to expand.

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And then another opportunity has been the river authority and others. Now that is again, where will either have to come up with a human resource or find some way. But if you think about it philosophically, Texas Parks and Wildlife, long-term, I mean, we have got to develop, not develop, expand public hunting dramatically here.

Because we have got to get people opportunities, the 97 percent or whatever the number is, 95 percent of the land in Texas is privately held. I think it is our job to do more and more outreach. And so we have got to figure this out. And we are behind the curve, in my opinion.

MS. CAMPBELL: Well, the private expansion is the way we see it.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.

MS. CAMPBELL: Because you just said it, 97 percent privately held.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: That is right.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thanks, Linda.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Linda, thank you very much. We appreciate all of your hard work. Okay. I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And I think that completes our business.

(Whereupon, the meeting was concluded at 10:44 a.m.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: May 27, 2009

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 76, 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.

6/09/09
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731


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