The commissioners of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously voted Thursday (May 27) to approve Austin Booth, a native of Scott, to become the agency’s 19th director in its 106-year history.
He will replace director Pat Fitts when he retires from the agency on June 30.
Booth served as Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps in multiple capacities from 2011-2019, including a 2015-2016 deployment to Afghanistan. He comes to the AGFC after 18 months as Chief of Staff and Chief Financial Officer at the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, where he oversaw financial functions as well as internal operations of the department. He is a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., and received his Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law.
“Booth has a keen understanding and vision for supporting the state’s leading conservation professionals and ensuring they have the means necessary to maintain Arkansas’ natural resources,” AGFC Chairman Andrew Parker said.
“With such strong in-house candidates available at the agency, we knew that it would take someone extraordinary to be chosen from outside the AGFC. Austin is that extraordinary person,” Parker said. “He is one of those rare leaders who immediately gain your respect. His background and approach to conservation from the views of the average hunter and angler will complement the scientific expertise of the current staff.”
Booth says he was fortunate to grow up in Arkansas, where hunting, fishing and conservation are an important part of the culture.
“The outdoors has always been a part of my life,” Booth said. “I can’t remember a day when it wasn’t there.”
In addition to bass fishing, duck hunting and deer hunting, Booth enjoys taking his two daughters and son along for trips to Greers Ferry Lake for catfish and other species on jug lines.
“It’s a great way to get the kids out and enjoy time on the water,” Booth said. “They always get excited to find the lines and see just what’s on the hook. I can’t think of a better way to start a day on the lake.”
He recalled his duck hunting memories in Arkansas, especially in light of his out-of-state tours.
“I’ve started many mornings during duck season at 4:30 in the morning at McSwain’s Sports Center in North Little Rock before heading to the woods,” Booth said. “And I’ve spent my fair share of time in Bayou Meto. I also hunted ducks in Virginia when I was there for seven years, so I know how special duck hunting is here at home.”
The search for Booth began last November when Fitts announced his plans for retirement at the end of the fiscal year. Commissioners enlisted the help of an outside search firm to locate and analyze prospective applicants and coordinate throughout the hiring process.
Booth plans to spend the next month working closely with Fitts and visiting with staff throughout the state to get familiar with the many challenges facing the agency from multiple perspectives.
“This is a great opportunity to gain some of their institutional knowledge that is critical to good decision making, but it’s going to be a fast-paced learning period,” Booth said. “I am confident that my experiences so far in my life, combined with the deep gratitude I have for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, will help guide me and this agency for the benefit of generations of Arkansans to come.”