Austin Booth was voted in Thursday afternoon as the next director of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
He is the first external director hire in 21 years and will replace Patt Fitts when Fitts retires on June 30. The commissioners’ approval was unanimous. Booth’s hiring is the result of a nationwide search that began in November led by consulting firm Explore Co. of Kensington, Maryland.
The last director who wasn't an internal hire was Hugh Durham in 2000, Spokesman Keith Stephens told Arkansas Business by email.
Booth, a native of Scott, served as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps in multiple capacities from 2011-19; he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2015-16. He has been chief of staff and CFO of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs for the past eight months.
Booth is a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, and received his Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is a bass fishing, duck hunting, deer hunting and fishing enthusiast.
“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’s natural resources,” AGFC Chairman Andrew Parker said in a news release.
“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,” he said. “He is one of those rare leaders who immediately gains 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.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in the release, “Austin Booth has served the state with excellence and professionalism in a number of roles, and it is exciting to see those same leadership skills in service as the new director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Booth plans to spend the next month working closely with Fitts and visiting with staff throughout the state. “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,” he said in the release. “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.”