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'Mister' commissioner: love of outdoors leads Witt Stephens Jr. to G&FC.

WHILE HIS FATHER'S legacy was the creation of one of the largest investment banking houses off Wall Street, that of Witt Stephens Jr. may be a richer natural heritage for the state.

The youthful Stephens, 25, was named a commissioner of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in July by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. Stephens, who will serve seven years in the unpaid position, is said to be the youngest commissioner in the agency's history and among the youngest appointees ever to a major state commission.

Stephens' appointment brought to the general public's attention what many avid sportsmen in Arkansas already knew: that aptitude and interest in hunting and fishing rivaled his knowledge of finance. Though born into great wealth, Stephens sounds more likely to have been born with a bow in his hand than a silver spoon in his mouth.

Several years ago, he received the G&FC's coveted Triple Trophy Award, which goes to hunters who take a deer with a bow, muzzleloader and modern gun during one season. Since that time, Stephens says, he's taken to hunting deer primarily with a bow. He hunts mostly in northeast Arkansas, usually around Batesville, where a family farm is located.

Fishing is another major passion. He says he fishes mostly for largemouth bass but also enjoys fishing for brim and trout. Stephens traces his love of hunting and fishing not to his legendary father but to a deceased uncle, Albert Stephens, older brother of Witt Sr., who was a gun collector and outdoorsman.

When his tenure as a commissioner is up, Stephens names several improvements he hopes will have taken place.

"I hope that we've solved our funding problem," he says. "I'd like to see an increase in public lands. I'm concerned about the amount of land that the general public can hunt on."

In November 1994, the G&FC, along with several other state conservation agencies, will face a tough challenge in trying to get voters to approve a 1/8-cent sales tax. Forty-five percent of those revenues will go to the commission.

Stephens says it will be critical that proponents of the measure clearly articulate how important the revenues are to the agency's operation and how they would be used.

"We'll have to make it clear that to continue at this level, we're going to have to have some more funding, and this is probably the best way to cure that permanently without having to raise licenses and set user fees," he says.

The Private Stephens

Stephens plans to continue to serve as president of the private, non-profit Game & Fish Foundation, in addition to his commissioner duties and his position at Stephens Inc. as a management trainee.

Stephens acknowledges that his inbred connections to the Stephens financial empire are "obviously going to help" in promoting the G&FC cause, but he shys away from questions about just how influential the Stephens' machine might be -- a subject he seems uncomfortable with. He does say the company will be a financial supporter of the funding campaign.

In a telephone interview, the only son of Witt Stephens Sr. comes across as low-key, wary of publicity and very unassuming. He claims not to know what the future holds for him at Stephens Inc. and says he's just trying to work in as many different areas as he can and learn as much as possible.

He graduated from University of Arkansas in 1991 with a degree in finance and management and received the outstanding student in finance award, along with a Wall Street Journal student achievement award. He has been a registered representative in fixed income and equity sales for about two years.

Steve Smith, director of the G&FC Foundation, says Stephens is in no way a figurehead but someone who is passionately involved in and knowledgeable about wildlife issues.

"He studies it," Smith says, noting that Stephens has a wide library of resource information on wildlife and fishery management. "He's implemented practically every wildlife management and fishery management program that I'm aware of on his own properties."

"He's very knowledgeable, mature beyond his years, and he's enthusiastic," Smith says. "He's truly an inspiration."
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Title Annotation:Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:G&FC seeks broader base; agency sees sales tax plan as critical milestone.
Next Article:Greenheads mean greenbacks; duck season lucrative for Arkansas County.

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