It’s not the worst thing if someone doesn’t say yes.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is in the process of setting up advisory councils with the goal of furthering and improving dialogue between consumers, hunters, industries, outdoor enthusiasts and the AGFC itself.
“What we’re looking for are people that are committed to conservation that have demonstrated that within their life and are simply wanting to have an honest conversation,” AGFC Director Austin Booth said. “We’re not looking for yes men and yes women.”
Too often and despite the AGFC’s best efforts, Booth said, there has been the concern that the message, whatever it may be and on whatever topic, might not be getting heard loudly and clearly enough.
“So many times we can look at all of Arkansas Game and Fish’s organized communication channels, and we exhaust everything, and we still just aren’t confident that we’re getting the word out there like we should,” Booth said. “That’s everything from regulation changes to season dates to job advertisements.”
The councils have been in the organization process since the first of the year, though preliminary planning began in August 2022. Council membership will be between six and 10 members and the first meetings, to be held quarterly, were expected to begin in fall of 2023.
No AGFC personnel will serve in a council membership position, though each panel will have staff members assigned to assist and bring “a little AGFC expertise,” Booth said.
The AGFC Advisory Council on Hunting has already been formed. Chaired by Greenhead editor Brent Birch, the council on hunting has the primary purposes of providing the AGFC with input on how to better serve the state’s hunters and anglers, to aid the commission in communication about issues concerning conservation and regulation and to lead volunteer and partnership projects statewide.
Membership includes people like conservationist and duck calling champion Jim Ronquest, veterinarian and sporting dog specialist Jonathan Bradshaw and Jonathan Wilkins, owner/operator of hunting club and guide service Black Duck Revival, among others.
Advisory councils on fishing, public access and habitat and on recreational shooting will follow under the same format, membership criteria and schedule.
Booth, who assumed the directorship in 2021, said he realized the need for advisory councils based on his own experience when taking the job.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m an avid hunter and I never knew that,’ ” Booth said. “That is a daily occurrence for me. I know there are a ton of people outside the agency that aren’t really aware of many of the things that we do. So that’s kind of one side of it, how we communicate the agency [to people]. Then the other side of it was, if this is true, then I bet the opposite is true that we need to do a better job of hearing from the public as well.”
The meetings are not required to be public, Booth said. The AGFC commissioners obviously have governing control so the councils exist in an advisory capacity, however Booth is required to make reports to the AGFC based on what is handled at the meetings.
“We know that users, our customers and industry, have a lot of ideas about how we can better partner together and how we can improve the experience,” Booth said. “And we want to bring those three groups — Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, industry and avid users — at one table where we can do volunteer projects and projects that need to be sponsored and we can address what needs to be done and do it in a comprehensive and synergistic way.”
Initially, Booth said, the AGFC will want to make the councils aware of pending items of concern, interest or action ranging from infrastructure challenges to recreational shooting priorities to black bass management. He said each council chair would be notified of the items of discussion, but Booth noted that half the meetings would be left open to business the council members might want to discuss.
“We think, however good we’re doing now, if we can have stronger and deeper ties to the hunting and fishing public then that’s what we owe people,” Booth said.