One of California's top wildlife officials found himself in the political line of fire Friday, after a photo surfaced showing him holding a dead mountain lion he killed in what appeared to be a recent big game hunt.

Daniel W. Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission, shot the lion in Northern Idaho. The photo was posted on the website of Western Outdoor News, a hunting and fishing publication.

Mountain lion hunting has been illegal in California since 1990, when voters passed Proposition 117.

Within hours of the photo appearing, callers deluged the state Fish and Game Commission office, and the Humane Society of the United States urged Richards to step down.

"It's not illegal. But he's thumbed his nose at the people of California," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. "He's supposed to be representing the interests of all California citizens. It seems like such a tone-deaf action. What part of 'no' doesn't he understand?"

Richards did not respond to requests for an interview.

But on the Western Outdoor News website, Richards, 59, is quoted as saying that he shot the lion with a Winchester Centennial .45 carbine on Flying B Ranch. The 5,000-acre property in Northern Idaho charges $6,800 per person for a 7-day lion hunt.

"I'm glad it's legal in Idaho," said Richards, who is a life member of the National Rifle Association.

A San Bernardino County Republican appointed to the five-member commission by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, Richards has been its most outspoken advocate for expanding hunting, often clashing with environmental and animal welfare groups.

As president, Richards can set the commission's agenda on a range of issues including endangered species protections, ocean fishing rules and all types of hunting regulations from rabbits to black bears. If he were to bring the dead mountain lion back to California from Idaho, he would be in violation of state law.

Proposition 117 banned the possession of mountain lion parts or trophies killed after 1990. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill creating a narrow exemption for museums to display lions killed under permits from the state Fish and Game Department.

The governor cannot remove any member of the Fish and Game Commission. However, the state Legislature can, with a simple majority vote.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, chairman of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, said Friday he is considering introducing a resolution in the Legislature to remove Richards.

"He's thumbing his nose at California law," Huffman said. "He's mocking it. Frankly, I think he should face the music and step down. He's done something that's a disgrace to his position and to responsible hunters in California."

Environmental and animal welfare groups that wrote and passed the ballot measure in 1990 banning lion hunting argued that the practice is cruel and unnecessary, because unlike with deer, turkeys and other game, hunters do not eat lions. And they argued it upsets the balance of predators and prey. Hunting groups attempted to overturn the measure in 1996, but voters again chose to keep lion hunting illegal.

Richards' term expires next January. He was voted president earlier this month in an odd 2-0 vote in which two commissioners who disagree with his views, Mike Sutton and Jack Baylis, abstained, while the former president, Jim Kellogg, whose term as president expired, supported him.

One commissioner, Richard Rogers, was absent due to an Achilles tendon injury. Rogers said Friday he is likely to support another vote to choose a new president at a commission meeting in the next month or two. If Richards is removed, the current vice president, Michael Sutton, a biologist who works for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, would become president.

Meanwhile, Richards is facing more political fallout.

In 2010, his former business partner was indicted, along with three other men, on charges of bribery, conflict of interest, tax fraud, tax evasion, perjury and forgery. San Bernardino County prosecutors said the indicted men worked to corrupt public officials in connection with a $102 million settlement in a land development deal.

Contact Paul Rogers at 408-920-5045.

-------------------------------
More information and bigger image: www.wonews.com/Blog.aspx?id=1646