Peter Fimrite
Saturday, March 3, 2012
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A formal complaint has been filed accusing the California Fish and Game Commission president who shot a cougar in Idaho of violating California law by accepting a free hunt, complete with dogs and a tracker.

Daniel Richards, a San Bernardino County Republican who has been a commissioner since 2008, killed the cat at a ranch that normally charges thousands for the privilege, according to the complaint filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Kathy Bowler, the former executive director of the California Democratic Party, filed the complaint, citing state law limiting gifts to elected officials and members of state boards and commissions to a maximum of $420 a year. Bowler also complained that Richards did not report the gift to the FPPC. Under state law, gifts must be reported within 30 days.

It is the latest development in a controversy that began when Richards sent a photo to the Western Outdoor News blog of himself lifting the dead cougar during a Jan. 20 expedition at the Flying B Ranch in northern Idaho. The blog quoted the giddy commissioner saying, “I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho.”

Richards, who has claimed in previous interviews that he is an avid hunter who got his first gun when he was 10, told the blog the eight-hour hunt was the fulfillment of a long-held goal.

Puma hunting was banned in California in 1971 and voters renewed the ban in 1990. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 40 Democratic Assembly members, animal rights groups and citizens have demanded that Richards resign from the commission, which oversees wildlife management in California. But Richards has been defiant, telling legislators to mind their own business, boasting that he dined on cougar the night of the hunt, and appearing on a conservative talk show and attacking his critics. Richards, who has refused to comment beyond his provocative statements on the radio, has never addressed the issue of whether he paid for the hunt.

Flying B Ranch charges $6,800 for seven days of cougar hunting with two guides. The price includes airport pickup, meals, drinks and a room in the lodge on the 14,000-acre ranch, according to Joseph Peterson, the ranch manager.

Bird hunting

Peterson said Friday that Richards went to the ranch in January to hunt for pheasant, partridge and other birds at a cost of $1,600 a day. He said Richards and a group of four or five others shot clay pigeons on the first afternoon and were planning to hunt birds the next couple of days. While they were hunting birds, he said, puma tracks were spotted by ranch workers, who then asked members of Richards’ group whether they wanted to participate in a puma hunt.

“He said he would love to because he’s never seen a mountain lion,” Peterson said of Richards.

Several members of Richards’ group were present, Peterson said, when three pumas were treed by hounds that day. Peterson said one of the cougars was shot by an employee and another was shot by a guest. The third was let go, Peterson said.

Puma exhausted

Richards knew Peterson was going out the next morning to look for more mountain lion tracks.

“He said if we found one of larger size he was interested in harvesting it,” said Peterson, who fetched Richards when he spotted new tracks. “He was there when we set the hounds loose.”

The hunt was grueling and dangerous, according to Peterson. The desperate puma raced through forests and scaled rocky, nearly inaccessible cliffs that the dogs couldn’t get through and had to be taken around. At one point the cougar circled back on his own tracks and tricked the dogs. On two occasions, the puma climbed trees to rest, but jumped back down and escaped before the hunters got there.

Finally, the big cat was too exhausted to go on and planted himself 40-feet up in a large Douglas fir tree.

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