• Don't Mess with Cougar People •
BY ANNE SOBLE
On the surface it doesn't look as if the president of the state Fish and Game Commission has anything in common with the poacher who took out one of the dwindling number of mountain lions in the local mountain range. After all, one shot his cougar in a state where it is legal, and the poacher violated state law.
But the poacher knows he did something wrong and keeps his mouth shut. FGC prexy Dan Richards beams jubilantly as he poses for his "look at me" trophy photograph. No one knows what motivated the poacher; perhaps financial necessity. It wasn't the need for food, as only parts of the cougar were taken from the crime scene.
As to Richards' motivation, it might have been hubris and poor judgment. The man at the helm of the state agency to implement the will of California voters to outlaw mountain lion hunting over two decades ago, was going to show those sissy cougar lovers. He reportedly had wanted to bag a big cat for years—an interesting personal priority.
And there may be some criminality associated with his "legal" cougar hunt, as an investigation is sought on whether Richards broke state ethics laws by accepting free hunting services. Richards went to one of those fancy dude places where what is essentially contained wildlife can be chased with dogs and guides until the animal verges on collapse and is treed or cornered. The "great hunter" then steps forward to handle the dispatch.
Let's establish right away that I'm a registered multiple gun owner and have no problem with hunting, if it's "fair chase" for food or in the interest of self-protection. I am opposed to trophy hunting and the pseudo-hunting that the wildlife stock places offer, usually for exorbitant fees. If one can handle the strong visuals, the promotional video for the ranch where the cougar was killed can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=l-U4v4Mra1w#t=02m50s
I join Last Chance for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, other animal rights groups and the 40-plus members of the State Legislature who say that a commission head should not flout the values he has pledged to uphold—even if he does so in another state on his own time.
Richards' behavior should be no surprise, however. He has been a minority opponent of one pro-wildlife program after another, out of sync with efforts to ban mountain lion hunting, outlaw steel leghold traps, create no fishing zones off the coast, and defeat expanded black bear hunting. Richards is a throwback to when hunting and fishing lobbies ran the wildlife management show.
If he is removed by the Legislature, there could be an important political benefit. If the governor appoints a pro-wildlife protection replacement, the balance of power on the FGC might shift to a 3-2 environmentalist majority for the first time ever.
Finally, the state should change the name of the Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to reflect the critical need to protect species that are being threatened by habitat loss, poaching, rodenticides, and human fear and ignorance. AB 2402 proposes this change.
This is a move that Malibuites should rally behind.