California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is just one in a growing chorus of voices calling for the resignation of state Fish & Game Commission President Daniel Richards, following the uproar generated by photos of a smiling Richards holding aloft the lifeless corpse of a dead mountain lion.
Richards shot, and apparently ate, the animal while on a hunting trip in Idaho.
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While slaying the animal is prohibited in California, the trophy hunting of mountain lions is permitted in the Gem State.
According to hunting website WONews.com, when asked about California's ban on hunting mountain lions, Richards replied, "I'm glad its legal in Idaho."
"While not in California at the time, your actions call into question whether you can live up to the calling of your office," wrote Newsom in an open letter to Richards earlier this week. "As president of the commission, I am sure you understand that merely complying with the conservation laws of California is not the standard by which the Commission or its members are measured. As is stated on the Commission's website, your actions should be in the 'best interest of the resource and truly reflect(s) the wishes and needs of the people.' "
Newsom went on to note a personal interest in perserving mountain lions--his father, Judge William Newsom, used to be the president of the Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation.
The former San Francisco mayor isn't the only California official calling for Richards's ouster. Dozens of politicians, including Democratic Los Angeles State Senator Ted Leiu, have demanded Richards step down. "Commissioner Richards utterly fails to understand that he is not just a private citizen: He is the president of the California Fish and Game Commission, which is charged with managing the laws against the killing of mountain lions, " Leui told the San Francisco Chronicle in a statement. "Imagine if the [national] drug czar went to a jurisdiction where marijuana was legal and then posted an Internet picture showing him smoking marijuana. He would be fired before he returned to his office."
In response, a defiant Richards lashed out at his critics with a letter sent to every member of the state legislature as well as the governor, the California Secretary of Natural Resources and his fellow other members of the Fish & Game Commission:
Did I try to change California's law subversively? Did I encourage anyone to circumvent our rules and regulations? Have I ever suggested [sic] any changes to Prop 117 [which outlawed hunting mountain lions in California]? No, of course not. While I respect our Fish and Game rules and regulation, my 100 percent legal activity outside of California, or anyone else's for that matter, is none of your business.
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.
In the meantime, I will continue to hunt and fish wherever I please, as I always have done, ethically, licensed and proudly associating with true conservationists who daily fund, protect, enjoy and enhance our bountiful resources while not trying to limit others [sic] enjoyment of the same.
A number of online petitions calling for removal of Richards, who was appointed to the position by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, have circulated since the controversy broke. Thousands have added their signatures.
During much of the 20th century, the hunting of mountain lions was encouraged in California with a bounty given by the state. Between 1907 and 1963, over 12,000 lions were killed by hunters.
In 1971, it was estimated that only 600 survived in the wild, and Governor Ronald Reagan enacted a moratorium on hunting the big cat for sport. That moratorium was subsequently extended twice and then made permanent when California voters approved Proposition 117 in 1990.
Six years later, voters rejected a proposition that would have repealed the protections enjoyed by California mountain lions.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill permitting non-profits to display dead mountain lions, allowing the administrators of a museum in Kern County to display a mountain lion that had been sitting in their freezer for years.
Check out this video of Newsom and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown chatting with the Chronicle's Phil Matier about the Richards:
Correction: The article originally stated that mountain lions are endangered; only certain subspecies of mountain lion--such as the Yuma Puma and the Florida Panther--are listed by various government conservation bodies as being endangered.