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Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Director Austin Booth announced the formation of a new branch within the AGFC’s ranks to focus on recreational shooting and the development of shooting ranges and programs throughout The Natural State at today’s regularly scheduled Commission meeting.
“The connection between conservation and shooting is as old, at least, as (the Pittman-Robertson Act), which ensures that hunters and recreational shooters are the most passionate and impactful conservationists in the country,” Booth said. “One of the biggest things that we hear from communities around Arkansas that they want more of is support around recreational shooting.”
Booth said the Recreational Shooting Division will be headed up by Interim Chief Grant Tomlin, who has overseen this aspect of AGFC business for the last 10 years as a member of the agency’s Education Division. Many of the AGFC’s popular shooting sports programs, such as Archery in the Schools and the Youth Shooting Sports Program, have flourished with the help of Education leadership and support and will comprise the foundation of the new division. Establishing facilities through partnerships with local municipalities and entities also will be a major focus of the new direction.
To solidify his resolve toward the agency’s new direction, Booth introduced the AGFC’s desire to pursue a partnership with the city of Clarksville and University of the Ozarks.
In his first presentation as chief of the new division, Tomlin said this partnership will help grow the university’s nationally recognized Clay Target Shooting Program by building an Olympic-level shooting sports facility in Clarksville for students as well as the general public. According to Tomlin, a finalized memorandum of understanding is still being completed for commissioner review and expects it to be presented next month.
According to Tomlin, the AGFC hopes to provide up to $2 million in matching funds to help the university construct the proposed $12 million facility. If approved, the match would be contingent on the university raising the remainder of the required funding.
Both the creation of the new division and the pending partnership with the university are key contributors to accomplishing goals set by the agency and director in The Natural State Tomorrow, the AGFC’s 5-year strategic plan.
Booth explained that today’s announcement was only one of the agency’s many accomplishments in the last year during his address to the Commission. He also highlighted the strides being made in habitat management and conservation on private land through the recently established Private Land Habitat Division, the record-breaking year in construction and infrastructure maintenance to promote access and increased habitat quality, and the evolution of the agency’s Black Bass Program to better align agency actions with the desires of Arkansans.
“When I look at where this agency is going, when I look at the hours that I see on everyone’s timesheets, our new pick from Gov. (Sarah) Sanders for a Commissioner, the most palpable and important thing this agency has going forward is momentum,” Booth said. “Thank you to the staff for your vision and tireless execution and to the Commissioners for your day-in, day-out support.”
The Commission also unanimously voted to lift all length and creel limits on Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir beginning July 21 to allow anglers to catch and keep fish before the lake’s drawdown and renovation. They also heard the first reading of a regulation change to suspend boat dock and fishing structure permit fees on Lake Conway. If passed, the change will still require landowners bordering the lake to obtain and maintain permits under the agency’s official land use policy. The fees associated with those permits will be waived during the renovation process. [LINK TO PRESENTATION]
In other business, the Commission:
- Heard from Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation President Deke Whitbeck and his announcement of Fiocchi as the corporate partner and new presenting sponsor of AGFC recreational shooting programs. [LINK TO PRESENTATION]
- Heard from Whitbeck and former Commissioner Ross Whipple about the leadership the Ross Foundation and Clark family have forged in the Foundation’s Impact Fund to aid the AGFC and raise more than $500,000 for conservation work in southwest Arkansas. [LINK TO PRESENTATION]
- Removed five items from inventory with an original cost of $30,729 and a current net book value of $0. [LINK TO PRESENTATION]
- Authorized Booth to complete a permanent land easement to allow access to landlocked private property at Lake Elmdale in Washington County. [LINK TO PRESENTATION]
- Authorized an update to the employee evaluation policy in the AGFC Policy and Procedures Manual. [LINK TO PRESENTATION]
A complete video of the meeting is available on the AGFC’s YouTube Channel.