Environmentalists and Democrats are calling for California Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards’ removal after the publication of a photograph of him with a mountain lion he had legally hunted and killed in Idaho.
Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards first came under fire in February when Western Outdoor News published a photo of the smiling Richards with a dead mountain lion he had legally bagged on a hunting trip in Idaho.
California is the only state west of the Rocky Mountains to outlaw mountain lion hunting, and outraged liberals, already no fan of the conservative Richards, said he was thumbing his nose at California law.
After the release of the photo, 40 Democratic California Assembly members, the lieutenant governor, and a host of environmental and animal rights groups called for Richards to resign.
In a letter to the commission president, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose father is a past president of the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation, wrote: “While not in California at the time, your actions call into question whether you can live up to the calling of your office…. I do appreciate that you did nothing illegal in Idaho, but it is clear that your actions do not reflect the values of the people of California.”
Richards also faces an ethics complaint alleging he illegally accepted a $6,800 gift from a ranch during the Idaho trip.
However, Richards has had the support of much of California’s hunting and fishing community. More than 60 people spoke in favor of Richards during a nearly three-hour public comment session at a March 7 commission meeting, the first since the scandal broke.
“The bottom line is that he did nothing illegal,” said Doug Elliott, who runs the state’s largest catfish farm. “They’ve chosen this issue to maybe rid the commission of a conservative voice. This has been blown way out of proportion.”
California Republicans have also rallied around Richards. Republican state senator and GOP caucus chairman Tom Harman wrote in a letter to the state senate president: “If Mr. Richards is guilty of ‘thumbing his nose at California law’ as some have purported, how many other residents of the state are guilty of the same by gambling in Nevada, driving 85 mph while in Texas, or even renting a car in any other state that is not up to California’s demanding emissions standards?”
California Democratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso dropped a legislative effort to have Richards removed from office, but Richard’s position is not yet safe.
The San Diego Democrat requested that California Gov. Jerry Brown begin searching for a replacement who can take over for Richards when his term expires in January.
Richards was appointed in 2008 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“After hearing from thousands of California residents disappointed with (Richards’s) poor judgment, we urge you to select an individual who will truly respect the principles of our great state’s wildlife laws,” Hueso wrote in a letter to Brown, which also was signed by Speaker of the Assembly John Perez.
Fish and Game commissioners also voted to add an item to the commission’s agenda for its May 23 meeting that would allow the panel to remove Richards as president. He would still remain on the commission.
For his part, Richards has remained unapologetic and has said in no-uncertain terms he plans to remain in office.
“Did I try to change California’s laws subversively?” Richards wrote in a letter to critics. “Did I encourage anyone to circumvent our rules and regulations? … While I respect our Fish and Game rules and regulations, my 100 percent legal activity outside California, or anyone else’s for that matter, is none of your business.”
“In the meantime, I will continue to hunt and fish wherever I please,” he concluded.