Gov. Asa Hutchinson has named Fort Smith businessman Bennie Westphal to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) to fill out the remaining term of Joe Morgan, who died in November. The term expires in June 2022.
“Bennie Westphal brings to this position a love of the outdoors and years of experience as a businessman and community leader,” Gov. Hutchinson said Friday (Dec. 4) in a statement. “I have known Bennie for over 30 years, and I have full confidence in his commitment to conservation and to serving the public in this key position.”
Westphal is the CEO of The Westphal Group, which is involved in commercial real estate development, oil and gas investments, and insurance sales. He sits on several company and community boards including the Fort Smith Mercy Foundation Board, BancorpSouth Advisory Board, Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club Inc., and the U.S. Marshals Museum Board. Westphal is also an investor in Natural State Media, the parent company of Talk Business & Politics.
Westphal holds a master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctor degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he also was a two-year letterman for the Razorbacks football team. He and his wife, Landy, live in Fort Smith and have two daughters and four granddaughters.
“It is an honor to be appointed to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission,” Westphal said. “Arkansas is so abundant in its natural beauty. I have been an avid hunter and fisherman most of my life and look forward to learning and working with the Commission.”
The AGFC was created in 1915, but it was not until the passage of Amendment 35 in Arkansas’ 1944 General Election that the Commission gained the power to enact wildlife regulations, according to the AGFC website. Before Amendment 35, AGFC wardens had the right to inspect hunters and anglers for illegally taken game, but did not have the authority to arrest poachers or issue citations for those violations. Laws were subject to change depending upon the ebb and flow of state representatives and their constituents.
Amendment 35 gave the Commission autonomy from the state legislature and enabled wildlife regulations to be enforceable on a statewide basis. It also gave wildlife officers full police authority to issue citations and make arrests. While the state legislature still has control of some aspects of Commission business, Amendment 35 was the beginning of wildlife conservation in Arkansas, according to the AGFC.