Federal and Texas state regulators are proposing changes to the agriculture pesticide applicator's license requirements that will affect all current and future license holders if approved.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a public comment period that will end Nov. 23. If farmers would like to comment on the proposed rules they are encouraged to do so before the comment period expires. To comment please see docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0183 at regulations.gov. The EPA website to view more information is www2.epa.gov/pesticide-worker-safety/.

EPA is proposing stronger standards for pesticide applicators who apply “restricted-use” pesticides. These pesticides are not available for purchase by the general public, require special handling, and may only be applied by a certified applicator or someone working under his or her direct supervision.

The proposed action is intended to reduce the likelihood of harm from the misapplication of toxic pesticides and ensure a consistent level of protection among states. EPA says under terms of the changes pesticide use would be safer with increased supervision and oversight.

Several of the proposed changes will directly affect private applicators involved in production agriculture.

Federal regulators propose to change minimum age of licensee to 18 years old (currently 16 years old) and the requirement to re-certify private applicators every three years (currently every five years).

Also, within the three years, private applicators will be required to earn six CEUs covering the general private applicator certification requirements and three CEUs per category of certification. Applicators will also be required to have completed one-half of required CEUs within 18 months of license expiration date.

Additional proposed changes include pesticide handler training on a yearly basis instead of the current 5-year requirement.

Specialized licensing

EPA is proposing additional specialized licensing for certain methods of application that can pose greater risks if not conducted properly, such as fumigation and aerial application. For further protection, those working under the supervision of certified applicators would now need training on using pesticides safely and protecting their families from take-home pesticide exposure.

State agencies issue licenses to pesticide applicators who need to demonstrate under an EPA-approved program their ability to use these products safely. The proposed revisions would reduce the burden on applicators and pest control companies that work across state lines. The proposal promotes consistency across state programs by encouraging inter-state recognition of licenses.

The proposal also updates the requirements for States, Tribes, and Federal agencies that administer their own certification programs to incorporate the strengthened standards. Many states already have in place some or many of EPA’s proposed changes. The proposed changes would raise the bar nationally to a level that most states have already achieved. The estimated benefits of $80.5 million would be due to fewer acute pesticide incidents to people.

In addition to the proposed federal changes, the Texas Department of Agriculture is proposing fee increases for applicator licenses and tests. For a private applicator the current fee is $60, but under the state's revised fee schedule that will increase to $100. A comment period for the state changes is open until November 9. The link to make comments to the TDA fee change is pesticides@texasagriculture.gov.

EPA encourages public comment on the proposed improvements. See a copy of the proposal and more information about certification for pesticide applicators.

Deer hunting season expected to be successful

Hunters should expect the 2015-16 Texas white-tailed deer season to be one of the best in years as timely rainfall and mild weather have certainly set the table, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

The general season opens Saturday, Nov. 7 and runs through Jan. 3, 2016, in the 209 counties that comprise the North Zone and through Jan. 17, 2016, in the 30 counties of the South Zone. 

For county specific regulations, check the 2015-16 Outdoor Annual — Texas Hunting and Fishing Regulations available at hunting license sales outlets, online at www.tpwd.state.tx.us and as a free mobile app download on iOS and Android platforms at www.txoutdoorannual.com/app.

Unlike in recent years, deer didn’t have to search far to find a highly nutritious diet of native weeds and browse plants. As a selective forager, deer prefer native forages high in protein and energy that are easily digestible. The forbs, a biologist term for weeds, fit that bill, and there were plenty of them this year.

Although dry conditions returned in July and continued through late October, the recent deluge of rain across the state may set the stage for an early winter weed crop and toward the mid to later periods of the hunting season deer may not be attracted to feeders so hunters might have to change up their hunting strategies.

Antler growth is predicted to be well above average. Exceptions to this overall excellent outlook may be in areas of East Texas where unusually wet years can result in lower-than-normal fawn recruitment.

So, what can hunters expect with regards to deer numbers and quality? For starters, the 2014 statewide deer population estimate was 3.95 million deer, the highest estimated population since 2005. Statewide population trends indicate a slow but steady growth in the deer population during the last 10 years.

Although these numbers are from 2014, the deer population is expected to be about the same if not break the 4 million deer mark for 2015.

Hunters should take advantage of opportunities to harvest antlerless deer this season, too, in order to offset high fawn production. We need to keep deer numbers at a level the habitat can sustain during lean years.

Texas deer hunters wishing to assist with the statewide chronic wasting disease (CWD) monitoring effort this fall can do so by voluntarily taking their harvested deer (or the head of the harvested deer) to a location where TPWD wildlife biologists will be collecting tissue samples for testing.

A list of collection sites and times is available online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/cwd. In addition to those established collection locations, biologists will also be conducting localized sampling at various sites throughout the season to meet sampling objectives. For additional information regarding localized CWD sampling efforts during this deer season, please contact your local wildlife biologist.

Hunters are also urged to check out the “My Texas Hunt Harvest” app that provides a means to voluntarily report and track harvested game from a smartphone or tablet. Hunters can log harvest for all resident game species, including white-tailed deer. The information collected will help TPWD wildlife biologists assess annual harvest and manage healthy game populations across Texas. Hunters should note that electronic reporting using the app does not fulfill tagging requirements for any game required to be tagged, or requirements for the completion of the harvest log on the back of the hunting license as it applies to white-tailed deer. The app is available for FREE download at the App Store for IOS devices and Google Play for Android devices. You can also report your harvest at https://apps.tpwd.state.tx.us/whs/.