Cougar killing puts spotlight on head of state game panel
Foes call for the California regulator’s ouster after his role in a legal hunt in Idaho.
Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times, February 29, 2012The head of the California Fish and Game Commission has come under attack for killing a mountain lion during a hunt in Idaho, with the lieutenant governor joining animal rights groups and Sacramento lawmakers calling for his resignation.
Commission President Daniel W. Richards of Upland ignited the controversy when he sent a photo of himself, smiling as he held up the dead lion on a snowy mountain, to a popular hunting website. Hunting mountain lions is legal in Idaho but has been outlawed in California, where regulations regarding the cats are overseen by the commission.
“Your actions have raised serious questions about whether you respect the laws of the people of California and whether you are fit to adequately enforce those laws,” Assemblyman Ben Hueso (D-Logan Heights) wrote in a letter signed by 40 Democrats in the state Assembly.
In a scathing response Tuesday, Richards told Hueso he had no plans to resign and defended his tenure on the commission. He also blasted the Legislature’s budget cuts to his department, saying they demonstrate a “lack of concern” for the resources the agency manages that he said is “shameful.”
“While I respect our Fish and Game rules and regulations, my 100% legal activity outside of California, or anyone else’s for that matter, is none of your business,” Richards wrote.
He said he had never proposed to repeal the ban on sport hunting of mountain lions in California.
“There is ZERO chance I would consider resigning my position as president of the California Fish and Game Commission and it is my sincere hope that you and your colleagues reassess your request and instead work with our commission and department for the betterment of the resources we’re entrusted to manage,” Richards wrote in the letter, a copy of which he sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Richards, a member of the National Rifle Assn., was appointed to the five-member state commission in 2008 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The photo of Richards appeared on the website of Western Outdoor News, which quoted him as saying he shot the animal on Flying B Ranch in northern Idaho. “I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho,” the website quoted Richards as saying.
The website, the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance and hunting groups defended Richards, accusing lawmakers of grandstanding over an incident that broke no laws. Some hunters encouraged others to show their support for Richards at next week’s Fish and Game Commission meeting in Riverside.
“It’s just a bunch of liberals out there making a hubbub,” said Nick Tacito of the Golden Ram Sportsman’s Club in El Dorado Hills. “He didn’t do anything wrong, although when you think about it he probably shouldn’t have had his picture taken.”
Among those calling for Richards’ ouster Monday was Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, serving as acting governor while Brown was out of the state. Newsom noted that California voters banned sport hunting of mountain lions in 1990 when they approved Proposition 117. Enforcement of the act, as well as decisions to kill mountain lions that are considered a public safety threat, falls to the Department of Fish and Game, overseen by the commission.
“Unfortunately, recent events make it clear that you cannot continue in any capacity on the commission,” Newsom wrote this week to Richards.
Joseph Peterson, manager of the Flying B Ranch and Richards’ guide, said the commissioner went to the ranch for a bird hunt. Peterson said he talked Richards into going on a lion hunt after fresh snowfall made it possible to track the big cats.
“They are very difficult to hunt. You have to do it with hounds, tracking them with hounds. Which is not easy. It’s not a sure thing,” he said.
The ranch manager defended hunting of mountain lions, saying an abundance of predators otherwise would decimate the deer and elk population.
“For someone from out of state to judge what we do, or what Mr. Richards did up here, is ridiculous,” Peterson said.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said Richards should have known better.
“It was really a case of him thumbing his nose at the California electorate,” Pacelle said. “It showed how tone deaf he is.”
Richards has been in political cross hairs recently. He was co-manager of Colonies Partners, which was at the center of a political corruption case in San Bernardino County. He has not been charged. His business partner, Jeffrey Burum, was indicted.