When Daniel W. Richards, the president of the California Fish and Game Commission, went to Idaho and shot a mountain lion, the dead carcass of which he held up gleefully for a photo, he triggered outraged calls for his resignation by California state legislators, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sierra Club California and the head of the Humane Society of the United States. Mountain lions are a protected species in California and have been off-limits to hunters for the last 20 years by virtue of a successful ballot measure. But it is legal to hunt them in Idaho.
While there's no question that Richards showed bad judgment by shooting the lion and flaunting his kill (as well as questionable taste if, as he suggests, he actually ate it), we don't believe his resignation is required for doing something that was perfectly legal where he did it.
What's of greater concern is that as a commissioner — and now as president of the commission — he has been an abysmal steward of wildlife and an obstructionist rather than a conservationist. That judgment is based not on his lion-hunting expedition but on his record. He has voted consistently against regional plans to implement the Marine Life Protection Act (which the commission approved anyway) and passionately opposed the commission's moves to broaden the ban on the use of nontoxic ammunition. That ban is designed to protect the endangered California condor, which, scientists say, can be lethally poisoned from eating the remains of animals shot with lead bullets. He voted against listing or considering several species of animals for protection, although the majority of the commission deemed them worthy.
Being a hunter does not mean necessarily being against conservation measures, as several conscientious hunters on the commission have demonstrated. Richards was appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and will serve on the commission until his term expires in January 2013 unless the Legislature takes action to remove him.
The commission sets policies and regulations, implemented by the state's Department of Fish and Game, to manage resources in a way that protects wildlife while also providing recreational hunting opportunities. Those policies are expected to reflect not just the ebb and flow of animal populations but the wishes of the state's residents, less than 1% of whom hunt. The Richards brouhaha comes as the state is revamping the commission and the department to improve their effectiveness in "fulfilling their public trust responsibilities for protecting and managing the state's fish and wildlife."
Gov. Jerry Brown currently has opportunities to appoint (or reappoint) two commissioners. Whomever he chooses, hunters or not, they should be fervently committed to the conservation of California's wildlife.