During more than eight years as a U.S. Marine Corps officer I came to realize that, in the best of ways, Arkansans are distinct.
I was sent to nearly two dozen countries on five continents and met Marines and other service members who were not only from different parts of the nation, but had different upbringings, pastimes and perspectives.
There was a woman from working-class Detroit who lost a brother to suicide and was one of the first female Marines to see combat in Afghanistan. There was an immigrant from Sri Lanka who loved his adoptive country so much he was willing to give his life for it. There was a Rhodes scholar who hailed from a trailer park in Wisconsin. And there was a young man from West Virginia who joined the Marines because, at 18, he “didn’t want to live in a dirt floor house anymore.”
The military is full of such emotional and compelling stories, but the farther I traveled from my childhood home in Lonoke County and the fewer Arkansans I encountered, the more I appreciated what I recognized to be our distinctive virtues: perseverance, grit and selflessness. It is the source of these virtues — the Arkansas outdoors — that is most noteworthy. It is there that we learn so many important lessons.
A tough, fruitless hunt teaches us humility. A long stalk teaches us perseverance. The joy of watching friends and family share our passion teaches us selflessness.
The classroom is the outdoors and the lessons are endless.
For more than 106 years, the mission of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been “to conserve and enhance Arkansas’ fish and wildlife and their habitats while promoting sustainable use, public understanding and support.”
This requires us to nurture, shepherd and safeguard our natural resources, but as we do this, we are conserving something much more delicate and important: the outdoor character of Arkansas that gives us our distinctive identity. I call this “common man conservation,” and it is what led me to become the 19th director of the AGFC.
From the agency’s perspective, common man conservation has three implications.
First, it means every effort and asset of the AGFC is for the benefit of Arkansans. Second, it means that we not only serve Arkansans, but all Arkansans — from all parts of the state, from all walks of life and with all types of interests. Third, it means we serve current and future Arkansans, ensuring that the Arkansas outdoors is better for our grandchildren than it has been for us.
The implications of common man conservation for business in Arkansas are obvious. At least 63% of Arkansans participate in outdoor recreation, and the industry can boast 96,000 jobs that give hard-working men and women of Arkansas $2.5 billion in wages and salaries.
The Arkansas outdoor recreation industry generates roughly $9.7 billion annually in consumer spending.
With an ethos of common man conservation, the AGFC will do its part to perpetuate this economic powerhouse.
We will modernize our vast inventory of aging infrastructure to ensure that we can indefinitely manage natural resources and provide the public with meaningful and consistent access. We will educate Arkansans about the importance of conservation, stewardship and the national treasure that lies in our very backyards. And we will uphold our rich, 106-year heritage of habitat management and preservation, not just on the land and water we manage, but for private landowners and leaseholders through our Private Lands Program.
We are not without challenges. Threats to natural resources, aging infrastructure, changing demographics and people’s changing interests are but a few. But the outdoor character of this state, the prosperity it brings and its distinctive virtues are worth fighting for. And we are ready for it.
Director, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission