BY PAUL LEBOWITZ
WON Staff Writer
(Updated Feb 28, 3:00 pm)
Speaking calmly this morning from the cozy confines an office filled with mementos of an outdoor life, Dan Richards left no room for doubt. The new president of the Fish and Game Commission will not resign his position over allegations he is unfit to serve for participating in a legal mountain lion hunt in Idaho.
On Friday, forty state assemblymen lead by Ben Hueso and Jared Huffman signed a letter demanding Richards’ step down. They were later joined by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who acted as governor while Jerry Brown was out of state.
Richards released his formal response this afternoon in a letter addressed to Hueso, it reads in part:
"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 positively with our Commission
and Department for the betterment of the resources we're entrusted to
"While I respect our Fish and Game rules and regulations, my 100 percent legal activity out of California, or anyone else's for that matter, is none of your business."
Richards goes on to clear the record - see the copy of the letter below for full details - and goes on to point out:
"Under your standards all Californians who enjoy gaming in Nevada are somehow ethically challenged as true Californians and should be removed from any official position. My guess is the Legislative chambers might look a little barren should that logic prevail."
During this morning's interview, Richards mentioned he appreciates the support he's receiving from the hunting and fishing community, many of whom feel the same way.
"I'm hearing from a lot of regular people out there, some of them not even fishermen or hunters, asking why the legislature would spend ten seconds on this," he said.
Richards came under fire when the San Jose Mercury News publicized A photo of a smiling Richards posing with his cougar, igniting a firestorm of criticism from the Humane Society of United States as well as other preservationist groups. The photo originally appeared deep in the pages of WON.
Huffman and others charged Richards with making an in-your-face political statement on the California’s mountain lion hunting moratorium, but Richards said that wasn’t the case. He was simply sharing the experience with fellow outdoorsmen in a hunting and fishing publication – an extension of story-telling around a hunting camp fire. As a matter of course, like many hunters and anglers Richards and his friends regale each other with tales of their most memorable successes in the field.
Richards said he isn’t lobbying to overturn the mountain lion moratorium. He respects California’s laws and the democratic process. Nor did send the photo or share the details of his hunt with HSUS or the mainstream press. He wasn’t trying to offend.
"The facts are irrefutable and I'm extremely comfortable with the facts," he said.
A WON story set for the March 2 issue explores the circumstances of the Richards hunt and traces the preservationist reaction, finding that HSUS and the grandstanding Huffman fanned the flames as part of an ongoing campaign to remove Richards from the commission.
Back to Richards. He firmly maintains he’s done nothing illegal or immoral in abiding by Idaho's local game laws, and he respects California's, including the lion moratorium.
"I'm not a member of the mountain lion society of California. I'm completely respectful of our laws, rules and regulations. I didn't invite any of them to go on a hunt with me," he said.
“I’m not going to apologize for a legal hunt," he added.
Richards said his work on the commission reflects his concern for the sporting community. "I've recognized the need for a common sense approach to the real issues that face us."
The legislature can forcibly remove Richards from his post only by majority votes in the assembly and senate. Such a move is unprecedented. According to legislative analysts who spoke on condition on anonymity, no serving commissioner has been legislatively recalled in the state's long history. And Richards has committed no crime, making any such attempt highly suspect.