LITTLE ROCK — The state Game and Fish Commission unanimously selected Deputy Director Michael W. "Mike" Knoedl to head the state wildlife agency Thursday.

Knoedl, 48, one of three commission deputy directors, will succeed retiring Game and Fish Director Loren Hitchcock on Sunday.

He joined the agency in 1985 as a wildlife officer cadet, then moved up through the enforcement ranks to lieutenant, major and colonel, the head of the division. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Law Enforcement School of Supervision and was chosen Arkansas Wildlife Officer of the Year in 1993. He became a deputy director in December.

All three deputy directors were candidates for the top position. The other two, Ricky Chastain and Mike Armstrong, will remain in their current positions.

Knoedl said he will have three priorities as Game and Fish director.

"First is pay (for employees). Second is the employee survey, and the third is where are we going. We must have a plan," he said. "I will always be an enforcement officer, but I completely understand the importance of every division. If I need to know something, I have the right people to give me the answers."

The AGFC employee survey was a project earlier this year in which agency employees directed harsh criticism toward the administration and commissioners.

Knoedl added that he would challenge young employees of the agency to deliver top performances.

His wife, Lisa, is a teacher in Sheridan schools, and they have four grown children.

Also Thursday, the commissioners approved two land acquisitions, both in partnership with Arkansas Nature Conservancy. One is for a 1,954-acre tract, called Devil’s Eyebrow, in Benton County, and the transaction will take place in the current fiscal year. The other is 1,611 acres called he Longview Saline Tract in Ashley County, and this will be done in the next fiscal year.

Both are intended to be added to the agency’s wildlife management area system.