TITLE 31. NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION

PART 2. TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT

CHAPTER 65. WILDLIFE

SUBCHAPTER F. PERMITS FOR AERIAL MANAGEMENT OF WILDLIFE AND EXOTIC SPECIES

31 TAC §65.160

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in a duly noticed meeting on May 25, 2017, adopted an amendment to §65.160, concerning Landowner Authorization (LOA), with changes to the proposed text as published in the April 21, 2017, issue of the Texas Register (42 TexReg 2143). The amendment creates a mechanism for expedited approval of a landowner authorization (LOA) to manage wildlife or exotic animals by the use of aircraft (AWM).

The change allows a game warden's immediate or second-line supervisor to authorize an expedited LOA; clarifies that the required map must indicate the location of the property where permitted activities are to take place; and stipulates that an emergency, for the purposes of issuing an expedited LOA, consists solely of the need to prevent depredation of livestock. As proposed, an expedited LOA could only be obtained by the prior written approval of the game warden or game warden's supervisor in the county where the activities are to take place. The department considers that there may be instances when the local warden or supervisor is unavailable; therefore, the rule now reflects that a second-line supervisor is also authorized to approve an expedited LOA. The proposed rule requires, as part of the process for approval of an expedited LOA, the submission of a map clearly indicating the boundaries of the property where the management of wildlife or exotic animals is to be performed. The department considers that the intent of the provision is to allow the department to know where a prospective activity is to take place, and that the literal meaning of the provision as proposed could conceivably be understood to mean that the map identify only the boundaries of a property without providing the context (i.e., exact location); therefore, the change requires the map to clearly indicate the location as well as the boundaries of the property where permitted activities are to take place. Finally, the rule as proposed provides for an expedited LOA approval process without specifically identifying the circumstances under which an expedited approval, rather than an approval through the normal process, is justified. Therefore, the change clarifies that the only justification acceptable for approval of an expedited LOA is for purposes of preventing the depredation of livestock.

Under federal law (16 U.S.C. §742j-1, commonly referred to as the Airborne Hunting Act, or AHA) it is unlawful to shoot or attempt to shoot or intentionally harass any bird, fish, or other animal from aircraft except for certain specified reasons, including protection of wildlife, livestock, and human health. Under Parks and Wildlife Code, §43.109, the Parks and Wildlife Commission (Commission) is authorized to promulgate regulations governing the management of wildlife and exotic animals by the use of aircraft.

In 2015, the department adopted revisions to the rules governing aerial wildlife management (41 TexReg 4037), including the elimination of provisions for emergency approval of new LOAs, which the department concluded was no longer necessary because of the transition to an electronic, online permit administration process. The department has since become aware that there may be instances in which it is not practical for a permittee to access the department's online system for approval of a LOA; therefore, the amendment provides a mechanism for expedited approval of a LOA in emergencies, which consists solely of the need to prevent depredation of livestock. The amendment allows a permittee to present a department-approved application for expedited LOA to a game warden assigned to the county where the prospective activity is to take place, or that warden's direct or second-line supervisor. The amendment also would require the permittee to complete the normal LOA approval process by accessing the department's online system within 72 hours following conclusion of activities authorized under the expedited LOA.

The department received two comments opposing adoption of the rule as proposed. Both commenters expressed opposition to the act of shooting wildlife from aircraft. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 43, Subchapter G, specifically authorizes the department to issue a permit for the management of wildlife from aircraft if the department finds that such management is necessary to protect or to aid in the administration or protection of land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life, or crops, which the department so finds and has promulgated rules to implement. No changes were made as a result of the comments.

The department received one comment supporting adoption of the rule as proposed.

The amendment is adopted under Parks and Wildlife Code, §43.109, which provides the commission with authority to make regulations governing the management of wildlife or exotic animals by the use of aircraft under this subchapter, including forms and procedures for permit applications; procedures for the management of wildlife or exotic animals by the use of aircraft; limitations on the time and the place for which a permit is valid; establishment of prohibited acts; and rules to require, limit, or prohibit any activity as necessary to implement Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 43, Subchapter G.

§65.160.Landowner Authorization (LOA).

(a) Prior to managing wildlife or exotic animals, an AMP holder must submit to the department, on a department-approved form, an LOA for each tract of land where AMP activities are proposed to take place and may not conduct AMP activities until the department has approved the LOA. The LOA must be signed by the AMP holder and the Landowner or Agent and must be in the physical possession of the person using an aircraft to manage wildlife or exotic animals during all AMP activities. The LOA shall include:

(1) the name, address, and phone number of the Landowner;

(2) the name, address, and phone number of the authorized Landowner's Agent, if applicable;

(3) the name and AMP number of the AMP holder;

(4) the farm or ranch name and specific location of the property;

(5) a georeferenced map (a map image incorporating a system of geographic ground coordinates, such as latitude/longitude or Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates) showing the exact boundaries of the property on which AMP activities are to be conducted, accompanied by a written statement signed by the Landowner or Agent confirming that the map is true and correct;

(6) the yearly number of individual animals of each species of wildlife or exotic animals to be managed by use of aircraft and the reason why these animals should be managed; and

(7) if game animals or game birds are to be captured by the use of aircraft, the permit number of a valid permit issued under the provisions of Subchapters E or J of this chapter.

(b) An LOA is valid for the time period specified in the authorization or the life of the AMP unless the AMP expires without renewal, is suspended or revoked, or is invalidated by the Landowner by notifying the department in writing.

(c) A single LOA form may be submitted by a group of Landowners or by an association on behalf of such landowners. The LOA form shall have attached a list of participating landowner names, ranch names, addresses, acreage, and a georeferenced map (a map image incorporating a system of geographic ground coordinates, such as latitude/longitude or UTM coordinates) showing the exact boundaries of each property for each participating Landowner. The LOA may be signed by one authorized Agent who represents the group of landowners or an association.

(d) The Landowner or the Landowner's Agent shall ensure that information included in the LOA is true and correct prior to executing an authorization.

(e) An expedited LOA may be obtained solely for the purpose of preventing the depredation of livestock, with the prior written approval of a game warden assigned to the county where the prospective management of wildlife or exotic animals is to be performed, or that warden's immediate or second-line supervisor, following submission to the game warden (or supervisor) of:

(1) a completed, department-approved application for expedited LOA for the property where the management of wildlife or exotic animals is to be performed; and

(2) a map clearly indicating the location and boundaries of the property where the management of wildlife or exotic animals is to be performed.

(f) Upon approval by the game warden (or supervisor), the AMP holder may conduct the authorized activities, but must, within 72 hours of completion of the activities authorized under the expedited LOA, complete and submit a LOA application to the department via the department's online system.

The agency certifies that legal counsel has reviewed the adoption and found it to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on June 27, 2017.

TRD-201702480

Robert D. Sweeney, Jr.

Acting General Counsel

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Effective date: July 17, 2017

Proposal publication date: April 21, 2017

For further information, please call: (512) 389-4775


SUBCHAPTER H. PUBLIC LANDS PROCLAMATION

31 TAC §§65.190, 65.191, 65.193, 65.197, 65.199, 65.204

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in a duly noticed meeting on May 25, 2017, adopted amendments to §§65.190, 65.191, 65.193, 65.197, 65.199, and 65.204, concerning the Public Lands Proclamation, without changes to the proposed text as published in the April 21, 2017, issue of the Texas Register (42 TexReg 2144). The amendments are a result of the department's review of its regulations under the provisions of Government Code, §2001.039, which requires a state agency to review each of its regulations no less frequently than every four years and to re-adopt, adopt with changes, or repeal each rule as a result of the review.

The amendment to §65.190, concerning Application, adds the East Texas Conservation Center, Roger Fawcett Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the Nature Center, and Yoakum Dunes WMA to the list of WMAs and public hunting lands to which the rules apply. All four locations have been recently added to the department's inventory and have been or will be made available for varying forms of public access.

The amendment to §65.191, concerning Definitions, alters the definitions of "special access permit" and "preference points." Until recently, the department issued a special access permit to authorize access to a specified unit of the state park system for purposes of participation in public hunting opportunity. With the transition to an automated system for drawn public hunts, such a permit is no longer necessary for that purpose. However, the permit is being repurposed to provide for access by a non-hunting person during authorized activities, which is necessary to allow for persons selected for public hunting opportunity to be accompanied by a friend or family member. The amendment also replaces the term "preference points" with the term "loyalty points," which is necessary to more accurately describe the department's process for increasing the probability of selection for public hunting opportunity following unsuccessful attempts.

The amendment to §65.193, concerning Access Permit Required and Fees, eliminates a reference to a state park that no longer exists, removes subsections (c) - (e) because they duplicate definitions contained in §65.190, eliminates references to "special access permits" because that term is no longer meaningful in the context in which it is used, and standardizes references to special permits. The amendment is nonsubstantive and intended to reduce confusion and increase clarity.

The amendment to §65.197, concerning Reinstatement of Preference Points, retitles the section "Reinstatement of Loyalty Points" and replaces the word "preference" with the word "loyalty" for reasons discussed in the amendment to §65.190. The amendment also eliminates current paragraph (2), which provides for the reinstatement of loyalty points if the selected applicant was assigned a hunt category, hunt area, or hunt period other than what was indicated on the application and does not participate in the hunt. Prior to implementation of an automated system for entering public hunt drawings, the entry, selection, and notification processes were manual and the occasional human error occurred during processing, resulting in the inadvertent assignment to applicants of hunts other than those for which the person applied. With the automated system, however, the only way for an applicant to be erroneously assigned a hunt opportunity is for the applicant to have applied for the wrong hunt; thus, the mistake is on the applicant's part. Therefore, it is no longer necessary for the department to provide for reinstatement of loyalty points in such situations, since the error is not on the department's part. The amendment also creates an exception for persons who have paid the appropriate fee and were prevented from participating in the scheduled hunt because of military deployment. The department believes that the obligations of military service are an appropriate reason for reinstating loyalty points.

The amendment to §65.199, concerning General Rules of Conduct, removes references in current subsection (d) to a defunct department publication entitled "Applications for Drawings on Public Hunting Lands." With the implementation of the new online system for application, the department has ceased to print hard copy booklets; however, the possibility remains that unforeseen developments such as natural events (drought, hurricane, flood, etc.) could make it necessary to cancel/re-schedule/alter hunting opportunities. Additionally, the amendment allows for the provision of hunting opportunity involving dogs following the issuance of an executive order published on the department's website.

The amendment to §65.204, concerning Recreational Use of Wildlife Management Areas, clarifies that the provisions of the subchapter apply on public hunting lands as well as wildlife management areas.

The department received no comments opposing adoption of the rules as proposed.

The department received five comments supporting adoption of the rules as proposed.

The amendments are adopted under the authority of Parks and Wildlife Code, §81.006, which prohibits the take, attempted take, or possession of any wildlife or fish from a wildlife management area except in the manner and during the times permitted by the department under Chapter 81, Subchapter E, and under Chapter 81, Subchapter E, which provides the Parks and Wildlife Commission with authority to establish an open season on wildlife management areas and public hunting lands, authorizes the executive director to regulate numbers, means, methods, and conditions for taking wildlife resources on wildlife management areas and public hunting lands, and authorizes the commission to adopt rules governing recreational activities in wildlife management areas.

The agency certifies that legal counsel has reviewed the adoption and found it to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on June 27, 2017.

TRD-201702482

Robert D. Sweeney, Jr.

Acting General Counsel

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Effective date: July 17, 2017

Proposal publication date: April 21, 2017

For further information, please call: (512) 389-4775


SUBCHAPTER N. MIGRATORY GAME BIRD PROCLAMATION

31 TAC §§65.314, 65.315, 65.318 - 35.321

Introduction.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (the department) adopts amendments to §§65.314, 65.315, and 65.318 - 65.321, concerning the Migratory Game Bird Proclamation. Section 65.315 is adopted with changes to the proposed text as published in the February 17, 2017, issue of the Texas Register (42 TexReg 668). Sections 65.314 and 65.318 - 65.321 are adopted without changes and will not be republished.

The change to §65.315, concerning Open Seasons and Bag and Possession Limits - Early Season, alters the season in the Central Dove Zone. Due to a typographical error, the season was proposed to have run from September 1 - November 8, 2017 and December 15 - January 21, 2018, which was not intended and in any event is impermissible under the frameworks issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), which allow a maximum of 90 days of hunting opportunity. The change instead authorizes a season to run from September 1 - November 5, 2017 and December 15, 2017 - January 7, 2018, which was the proposed language authorized by the Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Justification for the Rule.

The Service issues annual frameworks for the hunting of migratory game birds in the United States. Regulations adopted by individual states may be more restrictive than the federal frameworks, but may not be less restrictive. Responsibility for establishing seasons, bag limits, means, methods, and devices for harvesting migratory game birds within Service frameworks is delegated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (Commission) under Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 64, Subchapter C. Parks and Wildlife Code, §64.022, authorizes the Commission to delegate rulemaking authority to the Executive Director. Department regulations (31 TAC §65.313(f)) authorize the Executive Director, after notification of the Chairman of the Commission, to engage in rulemaking. Under ordinary circumstances, the federal frameworks are published in the Federal Register in the spring; however, due to issues relating to the presidential transition process, the federal rulemaking process this year was delayed to the extent that the federal frameworks were not published in time for the rules to be adopted at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Commission with enough time for them to take effect before the earliest season for migratory game birds opens (September 1). Therefore, under the provisions of 31 TAC §65.313, the Executive Director has ordered the adoption of the proposed rules.

The amendment to §65.314, concerning Zones and Boundaries for Early Season Species, expands the Special White-winged Dove Area (SWWDA) to encompass the entirety of the South Dove Zone. The Service has authorized the provision of four days of hunting opportunity in early September for the entire South Zone, and in keeping with commission policy to pursue the most liberal hunting seasons possible under the federal frameworks (consistent with sound resource management), the amendment expands the SWWDA to encompass all of the current South Dove Zone in order to provide 4 days of early hunting opportunity everywhere in the South Zone.

The amendment to §65.315, concerning Open Seasons and Bag and Possession Limits - Early Season, adjusts the season dates for early-season migratory game birds to allow for calendar shift (i.e., to ensure that seasons open on the desired day of the week, since dates from a previous year do not fall on the same days in following years), with the exception that the first segment of the South Zone/SWWDA would be shortened by four days (compared to last season) and those days would be added to the end of the second segment to allow for a weekend closure of the second segment. The amendment also clarifies the bag limit for white-fronted dove where necessary, which is nonsubstantive.

The amendment to §65.315 also implements a 16-day statewide teal season to run from September 9 - 24, 2017. By federal rule, the number of days in the September teal season count against the 107 days of total hunting opportunity allowed for ducks, coots, and mergansers. Additionally, the amendment implements a 16-day early Canada goose season in the Eastern Zone, also to run from September 9 - 24, 2017.

With the exception of a reduction in the bag limit for pintail ducks, the amendment to §65.318, concerning Open Seasons and Bag and Possession Limits - Late Season, retains the same season structure in both duck zones from last year and adjusts the season dates to account for calendar shift while retaining the bag and possession limits from last year. The Service, based on breeding waterfowl population surveys, has determined that recruitment (the survival of young ducks to join the population) in pintail populations has experienced a reduction that under the current harvest strategy triggers a bag limit reduction in the federal frameworks. Therefore, the bag limit for pintails is being reduced from two to one to comply with the federal frameworks.

With respect to geese, the season structure (adjusted for calendar shift) and bag and possession limits from last year are retained.

The amendment also makes the age requirement for youth waterfowl season consistent with the age requirements in effect for other species. Until recently, the federal youth-only season applied to persons 15 years of age and younger; however, because age requirements for youth hunting opportunity vary from state to state, recent federal action (81 FR 17301) allows individual states to establish a minimum participation age not to exceed to 17. In Texas the youth-only seasons for deer, turkey, and squirrel are limited to persons 16 years of age and younger; therefore, the amendment implement that standard for the youth-only waterfowl season for the sake of consistency and to eliminate confusion.

The amendment to §65.319, concerning Extended Falconry Season--Early Season Species, adjusts season dates to reflect calendar shift.

The amendment to §65.320, concerning Extended Falconry Season--Late Season Species, adjusts season dates to reflect calendar shift.

The amendment to §65.321, concerning Special Management Provisions, adjusts the dates for the conservation season on light geese to account for calendar shift.

The amendments are generally necessary to implement Commission policy to provide the greatest hunter opportunity possible, consistent with hunter and landowner preference for starting dates and segment lengths, under frameworks issued by the Service. It is the policy of the Commission to adopt the most liberal provisions possible, consistent with hunter preference, under the Service frameworks in order to provide maximum hunter opportunity.

Summary of Public Comment.

The department received 51 comments opposing adoption of the all or a portion of the proposed rules. Those comments, accompanied by the department's response to each, follow.

One commenter opposed adoption generally and state that there was no justification for changes to season dates. The department disagrees with the comments and responds that each change to a season date is explained in the preamble to the proposed rule. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received 11 comments opposing adoption of the amendment to §65.315 that establishes season dates and bag limits for dove.

Three commenters opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit for mourning dove in the South Zone during the Special White-Wing Season should be the same as during the regular season. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the bag limit as adopted is the maximum allowable under the federal frameworks and cannot be increased. No changes were made as a result of the comments.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the second segment in the North Zone should run later. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that surveys indicate landowner and hunter preference for a longer first segment in the North Zone. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

Three commenters opposed adoption and stated that the South Dove Zone should open on September 1 like the other zones. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, the earliest possible opening day in the South Dove Zone is the Friday nearest September 20 (but not earlier than September 17). No changes were made as a result of the comments.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the Central Dove Zone boundaries should be changed to include that portion of the state that is east of Interstate 45 in Houston. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the rules as proposed did not contemplate changes to the boundaries of the Central Dove Zone, but in any case, zone boundaries cannot be altered without the prior approval of the Service. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season in all dove zones should open on the same day. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, the North and Central dove zones cannot open earlier than September 1 and the South Dove Zone cannot open earlier than September 17; therefore, the earliest uniform opening day possible under the federal frameworks is September 17. Department survey data indicate a strong landowner and hunter preference for the earliest opener possible under the federal frameworks in all three zones; thus, delaying the opening date in the North and Central dove zones would not be popular. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season in the Central and South dove zones should run into February. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, no dove season may run later than January 25 in any zone. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the South Dove Zone should open two weeks earlier. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the earliest possible opening day in the South Dove Zone is the Friday nearest September 20 (but not earlier than September 17) and that the department has selected the earliest opening day possible in the South Dove Zone under the federal frameworks (September 22). No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received three comments opposing adoption of the portion of the proposed amendment to §65.315 that establishes season dates and bag limits for teal.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the September teal season should open later. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that because the special September teal season is a statewide season and Texas is such a large state, the 16-day season selected by the department is intended to afford the greatest opportunity to the greatest number of hunters during the teal migration. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the early teal season should be seven days long instead of 16 days, with the remaining nine days added to the regular duck season. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks the days allowed for the September teal season cannot be used to increase the number of days in the regular duck season. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit for teal should allow for one duck of another species in order to account for misidentification. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that it is the duty of every hunter to positively identify their target before shooting. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received 26 comments opposing adoption of the portion of the proposed amendment to §65.318 that establishes season dates and bag limits for ducks.

One commenters opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit should be increased for "dusky" ducks (mottled, black, or Mexican-like ducks). The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the bag limit adopted is the maximum allowable under the federal frameworks. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

Twelve commenters opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit should be increased for pintails. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the bag limit adopted in the maximum allowable under the federal frameworks. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

Two commenters opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit should be increased for redhead ducks. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the bag limit adopted is the maximum allowable under the federal frameworks. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that duck season should begin November 19 and run through February 20 in the South Duck Zone. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, Texas is allowed a maximum of 74 days of duck hunting opportunity between September 23 and January 28 in the South Duck Zone; therefore, opening the season on November 19 would result in a significant loss of hunting opportunity. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that because ducks do not arrive in the South Zone, the season should open later. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that because Texas is allowed a maximum of 74 days of duck hunting opportunity between September 23 and January 28 in the South Duck Zone, a later opening day would result in an overall loss of hunting opportunity. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season for pintails should be closed until the population recovers and stabilizes. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that harvest and population trends indicate that pintail populations will be able to withstand harvest at the one-bird bag limit reflected in the rule as adopted. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the South Duck Zone and deer season should not open concurrently. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that making opening day for both deer and duck seasons provides additional hunting opportunity because hunters can hunt two popular species. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season in the South Duck Zone should open in late November or early December. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that because Texas is allowed a maximum of 74 days of duck hunting opportunity between September 23 and January 28 in the South Duck Zone, a later opening day would result in an overall loss of hunting opportunity. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that duck season should extend into February. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, no duck season in Texas may extend past January 28. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

Two commenters opposed adoption and stated that the season in the South Duck Zone should be pushed back two weeks. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that because Texas is allowed a maximum of 74 days of duck hunting opportunity between September 23 and January 28 in the South Duck Zone, a later opening day would result in an overall loss of hunting opportunity. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the restricted season for "dusky" ducks should occur at the end of the regular season instead of the first five days in order benefit nesting success, since pair bonds have already formed by that time. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that federal frameworks require the first five days of the regular duck season to be closed for the take of "dusky" ducks. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season in the South Duck Zone should close on February 4. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, no duck season in Texas may extend past January 28. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the South Duck Zone opens too early. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the timing of duck seasons is based on migration chronologies and hunter/landowner preference for seasons that run until the end of the federal frameworks. Additionally, staff believes that providing a split that includes a weekend in the South Zone enhances the potential harvest for Texas hunters in the South Zone by creating a second "opening day," thereby creating additional harvest opportunity without negative impact on the resource. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received two comments opposing adoption of the portion of the proposed amendment to §65.318 that establishes season dates and bag limits for geese.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season for white-fronted geese should be shortened and the bag limit increased to three birds. The department presumes that the comment is in regard to the Eastern Goose Zone (because the federal frameworks do not provide for the possibility of a three-bird bag limit in the Western Goose Zone) and disagrees with the comment in either context. Under the federal frameworks, Texas is authorized to select a season in the Eastern Goose Zone of 74 days with a bag limit of 3, an 88-day season with a bag limit of 2, or a 107-day season with a bag limit of one. The department believes that the 88-day option in the Eastern Goose Zone strikes a reasonable balance between season length and hunter motivation. In the Western Goose Zone, the federal frameworks provide for a season of not more than 95 days and a maximum bag limit for white-fronted geese of two birds; thus, if the comment is intended in that context, the department cannot exceed the maximum season length or bag limit set by the Service. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit for dark geese in the Eastern Goose Zone should be increased to six birds, only two which could be white-fronted geese. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that population data indicate that the total number of Canada geese migrating to Texas has declined over time, even as the total number of Canada geese has increased on a continental basis. The bag limits as adopted are intended to provide for reasonable hunting opportunity for Texas hunters while providing for responsible biological management of the species.

The department received three comments opposing adoption of the portion of the proposed amendment to §65.318 that establishes season dates and bag limits for sandhill crane.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season in Zone C should have a split season with the second segment opening the last weekend in January and extending into February. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, the season for sandhill cranes in Zone C cannot be split. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the season in Zone C should be the same as the season in Zone A. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks the maximum season length in Zone A is 93 days, but the season in Zone C cannot exceed 37 days. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the bag limit in Zone C should be three birds. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that under the federal frameworks, the maximum bag limit in Zone C is two birds. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received one comment opposing adoption of the portion of the proposed amendment to §65.318 that establishes season dates and bag limits for the youth-only waterfowl season. The commenter stated that the rule does not state that the federal "duck stamp" is required for youth hunters. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that there is no state requirement to possess the federal "duck stamp"; however, the department encourages all waterfowl hunters to comply with the federal requirement. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received five comments opposing adoption of the portion of the proposed amendment to §65.321 that establishes season dates and bag limits under the Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO).

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the LGCO should open two weeks earlier. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the season dates as adopted were chosen to optimize the impact of the LGCO, which is which is to harvest large numbers of snow geese in order to protect Canadian breeding grounds from the effects of overpopulation. Under the federal frameworks, all other seasons for migratory birds must be closed during the LGCO. Therefore, opening the LGCO earlier would mean the loss of two weeks of hunting opportunity for other species of migratory game birds. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

Three commenters opposed adoption and stated that the LGCO should occur between segments in the duck season. As noted earlier in this preamble, the federal frameworks require, as a condition of the LGCO, that all migratory game bird seasons to be closed; therefore, opening the LGCO between duck season segments would result in an overall loss of hunting opportunity for all other species of migratory game birds. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

One commenter opposed adoption and stated that the LGCO should be eliminated. The department disagrees with the comment and responds that the purpose of the conservation order, which is to harvest large numbers of snow geese in order to protect Canadian breeding grounds from the effects of overpopulation. Eliminating the LGCO would result in Texas abdicating the responsibility to take part in the effort to stabilize snow geese populations and habitat loss. No changes were made as a result of the comment.

The department received 117 comments supporting adoption of the proposed rules.

Statutory Authority.

The amendments are adopted under Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 64, which authorizes the Commission and the Executive Director to provide the open season and means, methods, and devices for the hunting and possessing of migratory game birds.

§65.315.Open Seasons and Bag and Possession Limits--Early Season.

(a) Rails.

(1) Dates: September 9 - 24, 2017 and November 4 - December 27, 2017.

(2) Daily bag and possession limits:

(A) king and clapper rails: 15 in the aggregate per day; 45 in the aggregate in possession.

(B) sora and Virginia rails: 25 in the aggregate per day; 75 in the aggregate in possession.

(b) Dove seasons.

(1) North Zone.

(A) Dates: September 1 - November 12, 2017 and December 15 - 31, 2017.

(B) Daily bag limit: 15 mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in the aggregate, including no more than two white-tipped doves per day.

(C) Possession limit: 45 mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped doves (white-fronted) in the aggregate, including no more than 6 white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in possession.

(2) Central Zone.

(A) Dates: September 1 - November 5, 2017 and December 15 - January 7, 2018.

(B) Daily bag limit: 15 mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in the aggregate, including no more than two white-tipped (white-fronted) doves per day.

(C) Possession limit: 45 mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in the aggregate, including no more than 6 white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in possession.

(3) South Zone and Special White-winged Dove Area.

(A) Dates: September 2, 3, 9, and 10, 2017;

(i) Daily bag limit: 15 white-winged doves, mourning doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves, in the aggregate to include no more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped (white-fronted) doves per day.

(ii) Possession limit: 45 white-winged doves, mourning doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in the aggregate to include no more than 6 mourning doves and 6 white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in possession.

(B) Dates: September 22 - November 8, 2017; and December 15, 2017 - January 21, 2018.

(i) Daily bag limit: 15 mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in the aggregate, including no more than two white-tipped (white-fronted) doves per day.

(ii) Possession limit: 45 mourning doves, white-winged doves, and white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in the aggregate, including no more than 6 white-tipped (white-fronted) doves in possession.

(c) Gallinules.

(1) Dates: September 9 - 24, 2017 and November 4 - December 27, 2017.

(2) Daily bag and possession limits: 15 in the aggregate per day; 45 in the aggregate in possession.

(d) September teal-only season.

(1) Dates: September 9 - 24, 2017.

(2) Daily bag and possession limits: six in the aggregate per day; 18 in the aggregate in possession.

(e) Red-billed pigeons, and band-tailed pigeons. No open season.

(f) Shorebirds. No open season.

(g) Woodcock: December 18, 2017 - January 31, 2018. The daily bag limit is three. The possession limit is nine.

(h) Wilson's snipe (Common snipe): October 28, 2017 - February 11, 2018. The daily bag limit is eight. The possession limit is 24.

(i) Canada geese: September 9 - 24, 2017 in the Eastern Goose Zone as defined in §65.317(b) of this title (relating to Zones and Boundaries for Late Season Species). The daily bag limit is five. The possession limit is 15.

The agency certifies that legal counsel has reviewed the adoption and found it to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on June 27, 2017.

TRD-201702479

Robert D. Sweeney, Jr.

Acting General Counsel

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Effective date: September 1, 2017

Proposal publication date: February 17, 2017

For further information, please call: (512) 389-4775


SUBCHAPTER P ALLIGATOR PROCLAMATION

31 TAC §65.361

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in a duly noticed meeting on May 25, 2017, adopted an amendment to §65.361, concerning Alligator Farm Facility Requirements, without changes to the proposed text as published in the April 21, 2017, issue of the Texas Register (42 TexReg 2147).

The amendment alters subsection (a)(4) to eliminate the requirement to provide dry ground sufficient to permit alligators to completely exit from the water. Alligator farming is a commercial enterprise that produces meat and hides and provides a conservation benefit by minimizing impact to wild populations. With respect to hide sales, the most important criterion is hide quality. The department has determined that the current rule requiring the provision of dry ground causes territorial confrontations between alligators, which in turn results in the degradation of hide quality, making Texas alligators less marketable. The department believes that skin quality is an indicator of good husbandry, and that reducing animal conflicts will produce a more humane environment for farmed alligators, which will also result in more marketable hides.

The department received no comments opposing adoption of the rule as proposed. The department received five comments supporting adoption of the rule as proposed.

The amendment is adopted under the authority of Parks and Wildlife Code, §65.003, which authorizes the commission to regulate taking, possession, propagation, transportation, exportation, importation, sale, and offering for sale of alligators, alligator eggs, or any part of an alligator that the commission considers necessary to manage this species, including regulations to provide for the periods of time when it is lawful to take, possess, sell, or purchase alligators, alligator hides, alligator eggs, or any part of an alligator; and limits, size, means, methods, and places in which it is lawful to take or possess alligators, alligator hides, alligator eggs, or any part of an alligator; and control of nuisance alligators.

The agency certifies that legal counsel has reviewed the adoption and found it to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on June 27, 2017.

TRD-201702481

Robert D. Sweeney, Jr.

Acting General Counsel

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Effective date: July 17, 2017

Proposal publication date: April 21, 2017

For further information, please call: (512) 389-4775