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Paul Lebowitz – IT'S JUST FISHING

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012
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Tuesday, June 12, 2018
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Fish and Game furball heads for another dust-up
Muck and Grime column

Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards still has a few of his nine political lives. As the Humane Society of the United States, assemblyman Ben Hueso, and 39 other Democratic assembly members learned the hard way, Richards is one tough cat.

They tried to hound the independent-minded stalwart into resigning over a successful Idaho mountain lion hunt. It’s not legal in California — so what? It’s the law of the land up north. Richards, never one to toe the party line of the paid operatives of the environmental crisis industry, isn’t one to back down.

That hasn’t stopped the commission’s “environmental” block of Michael Sutton, Richard Rogers and Jack Baylis from continuing to press their assault on Richards, who succeeded Jim Kellogg as commission president in that odd February 2-0 vote when Sutton and Baylis abstained (Rogers was absent) in the wake of a failed political hit. Richards’ term runs through January.

Sutton and pals have orchestrated another run for Richards’ hide. The gloves will come off when they convene for their May 23-24 meeting in Monterey. Officially, they’ll consider a motion to repeal the section of code governing the election of the commission’s sole officer. In theory — and this is uncharted ground for the body that derives its authority from the California constitution — the expected 3-2 vote against Richards would set up a new vote for commission president.

But not so fast! There’s red tape. If they vote to change the law, the Secretary of State and state Office of Administrative Law will both have to weigh in. The anticipated rubber stamp is likely to take until August. The commission could vote sooner, with the president elect — probably the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s own Sutton — set to take office once the ink dries.

As far as Richards is concerned, he was elected for a one-year term. If we take him at his word, he’ll bitterly contest Sutton’s coup attempt.

Last month, Richards stated his position in unmistakably clear terms. “There’s a very concerted effort by the enviro-terrorists to infiltrate and take over the Department of Fish and Game. They want the money and they want the people to implement their agenda. These enviro-terrorists don’t spend one penny on conservation. All they do is...they’re lawsuit machines. That’s their business. They sue people, departments and commissions like us, public agencies, and they get settlements and then go and appeal to the public that they somehow are out making a difference. But they aren’t out doing any conservation work. They are engaged in the process. They’re manipulators. I’m just sick and tired of it, and I’m sick and tired of nobody calling it like it is,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Ed Zieralski.

Richards has never said so, but presumably he’s just as tired of Sutton, Baylis and Rogers. Which brings us to this puzzlement: What’s at stake? Why doesn’t the Gang of Three wait until February, when Richards’ term as president ends?

They could. Richards doesn’t expect to be reappointed, but then again Governor Jerry Brown seems indifferent about the commission. The sell-by date on Rogers’ term passed eons ago. He continues to serve in the absence of a replacement. Not that it matters. Unless Brown looks down from on high to shuffle the deck, on most matters hunters and anglers care about, it’s still 3-2 in favor of Sutton, Baylis and Rogers.

According to commission executive director Sonke Mastrup, the president has very few powers. “Commission president is largely a symbolic position. The president serves on the Wildlife Conservation Board as a voting member,” Mastrup said. The Wildlife Conservation Board determines how to spend state conservation funds for the purchase of “land and waters suitable for recreation purposes and the preservation, protection and restoration of wildlife,” according to the agency’s website.

The Fish and Game Commission president is also a member of the California Fish and Wildlife Strategic Vision Project executive committee. It’s too complicated to get into here, but the take-home is Richards is one man among seven bureaucrats hailing from the upper echelons of state and federal resource agencies. Whether he’s there or not wouldn’t seem to make a lick of a difference.

That’s it. There’s nothing else. For now at least, this is about influence, prestige and symbolism. Outdoorsmen won’t have any trouble reading the message if Sutton, Baylis and Rogers continue their attacks. The “antis” lost one battle to Richards. They aren’t done with their war.   one battle to Richards. They aren’t done with their war.

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Muck and Grime is a political column that runs, usually, once a month, written by Paul Lebowitz who covers the political beat for WON, and was a Stakeholder during the SoCal Regional MLPA process. He writes a kayak column for WON each month, and edits a national kayak magazine. 
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