Call to Order and Roll Call
The3rd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment was held on Thursday, August 7, 2014, at 1:00 PM, in Room 149 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Jared Carpenter, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Jared Carpenter, Co-Chair; Representative Jim Gooch Jr., Co-Chair; Senators Joe Bowen, Chris Girdler, Johnny Ray Turner, and Whitney Westerfield; Representatives Hubert Collins, Tim Couch, Keith Hall, Stan Lee, Reginald Meeks, Tim Moore, Marie Rader, John Short, Jim Stewart III, and Jill York.
Guests: Commissioner Greg Johnson and Ron Brooks, Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources; Commissioner Elaine Walker, Department of Parks.
A quorum was not established, and the minutes from the prior meeting were not approved.
Promotion of Natural Resources through Parks, Adventure Tourism, and Ecotourism
Commissioner Elaine Walker, Kentucky Department of Parks (PARKS), and Commissioner Greg Johnson, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), to testified. Commissioner Walker discussed the interagency cooperation between PARKS and the KDFWR to promote the state’s natural resources. PARKS was established in 1924 to celebrate the natural beauty of the state, and tracts in PARKS should have great natural beauty or historical importance. PARKS protects natural, cultural, and historic treasures of the state. Commissioner Walker described various activities that can be found around the state such as horseback riding, mountain biking, repelling, rock climbing, wild caving, survival programs and extreme sports, walking and hiking trails, canoeing and kayaking, and wildlife viewing. Family adventure quests, bird watching opportunities, and archery tournaments are also available. Commissioner Walker announced the opening of a new 3-D archery range. She described an orienteering program offered through PARKS with permanent courses at Carter Caves, Rough River, E.P. Tom Sawyer, Taylorsville Lake, Big Bone, and Barren River. There is also an activity called geocaching and there are caches at most state parks.
In terms of activity with the KDFWR, PARKS houses a bear expert at Kingdom Come State Park, works with fishing tournaments, and promotes conferences, including ones that bring outdoor writers to the state. Public response is growing and there has been a positive response from younger parks enthusiasts.
Commissioner Johnson expressed support for PARKS, saying he wants to leverage KDFWR’s resources to make Kentucky the destination of choice. There are great opportunities in Kentucky’s state parks. KDFWR is participating in discussions to offer hunting and fishing licenses through state parks or perhaps establish a kiosk for licenses. KDFWR is also interested in a number of other projects to help promote adventure tourism in Kentucky including establishing an elk viewing center in eastern Kentucky, creating fishing and hunting packages at state parks, and possibly undertaking a hatchery project at Lake Cumberland below Wolf Creek dam to create a world class 1 ½-mile long trout stream. The hatchery proposal may include establishing a weekend package for trout fishing.
In response to a question about whether the State Parks Foundation Board is active, Commissioner Walker replied that it is and that Mollie Caldwell was hired as President of the Foundation. The Foundation has been active in promoting and supporting “friend-groups” with the state park system.
In response to a question on whether the school calendar affects state parks, Commissioner Walker replied that it does. PARKS had problems getting lifeguards, and the earlier start dates have affected attendance at parks across the state.
In response to a question about whether there are financial issues affecting state parks, the commissioner responded that the General Assembly and the Beshear Administration have helped the state parks system during this past budget cycle. There is an additional $5.5 million to spread across the 17 resort parks. There are new facilities and new golf courses, conference centers, and pro shops, but there is no additional revenue to operate them. The impact on facilities maintenance has been substantial during the economic downturn. PARKS is concentrating on health and safety issues and guest experience. Salaries for staff have increased by three to five percent this year.
In response to a question about deferred maintenance at PARKS and whether this impacts the state park system, Commissioner Walker responded that it did.
One legislator commented that the school calendar is a major deterrent to tourism at state parks, and he thanked Commissioner Walker for her work at Burnside Island and Commissioner Johnson for responding to concerns that prompted Senate Bill 66.
In response to a legislator’s remarks regarding Carter Caves, Grayson Lake, Greenbo Lake, and the orienteering event called the “Flying Pig,” Commissioner Walker mentioned that Greenbo Lake has a pilot project for scuba diving.
One legislator remarked on the value of adventure tourism and its positive impact on Livingston, Kentucky.
One legislator remarked on how clean the water at Paintsville Lake is and how much interest there has been in the campground there. In response to a question regarding the length of the two new trailheads established in the area under the rails to trails program, Commissioner Walker responded that they will be 36 miles long in total.
In response to praise for the new open door policy at KDFWR and a comment that more elk permits should be made available to residents of the eastern Kentucky counties where the elk live, Commissioner Johnson replied that the elk program has matured and that there are new challenges compared to when the program first began. KDFWR hosted an elk summit three weeks ago, and will produce an elk 2025 report that will list the elk program objectives going forward. KDFWR is also reviewing how to amend regulations to increase availability of permits to the residents of eastern Kentucky.
Commissioner Johnson committed to work with the legislators during the interim as opposed to being visible primarily during annual sessions of the General Assembly. He noted that KDFWR is nationally recognized as a successful program due in large part to its partnerships and collaborations. In 1972, there was no elk herd, but current projections put the number of elk at 10,000. The deer herd in 1972 was at 30,000, but currently there are close to one million deer in the state. Kentucky is now recognized as the top state in the nation for deer hunting by Outdoor Life Magazine and Kentucky Field and Stream Magazine. He explained that the turkey population in 1972 was less than one thousand, with most of that population located at Land Between the Lakes, but currently the turkey population is over 240,000, and they are found in every county. There were no fish hatcheries in 1972, and now there are three fish hatcheries that stock more than four million fish annually, and the program is in need of expansion. Commissioner Johnson referenced the KDFWR conservation camp successes as well as the video production staff, which has earned two Emmy Awards for their work. Commissioner Johnson explained that his priorities as commissioner would be properly managing the state's resources, being sportsman-centric, and providing memorable experiences.
In response to a question regarding Asian carp, Commissioner Johnson remarked that KDFWR is working to contain the Asian carp population. He noted that Kentucky sport anglers are very interested in bow fishing these large fish. Mr. Ron Brooks, KDFWR Department of Fisheries, spoke about the market for Asian carp. KDFWR is establishing two programs that would help facilitate the creation of the market for Asian carp and aid in the removal of the species.
Update from Department of Fisheries on Catfish Regulation
Mr. Brooks explained administrative regulations that address the overfishing of the Ohio River and the dwindling number of trophy catfish. Trophy catfishing is a catch and release program that generates a great deal of revenue. The trophy catfish, mostly caught from the Ohio River, are purchased from commercial fishermen. After KDFWR collected data from 2011 to 2012 regarding trophy catfish numbers in the Ohio River, an administrative regulation was proposed that limited sport and commercial fishermen to one flathead and one blue catfish over thirty-five inches and one channel catfish over thirty inches, river-wide. The administrative regulation was passed in June 2014, but a legal injunction was placed on it before it could take effect. A hearing was set for July, but an agreement was reached to not pursue any further legal delays and to allow it to go into effect on December 1, 2014. Research efforts, along with those of Indiana and Illinois, will be ongoing for the next five years to continue to collect data.
Mr. David Wicker, KDFWR General Counsel, noted that this is an issue not only for the trophy catfish, but for the health of the population. Commissioner Johnson explained that a trophy catfish would be anywhere from 15 to 25 years old.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.