Daniel Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission and a co-managing partner of scandal-plagued, local development company Colonies Partners LP, has found himself in the political line of fire after a photo surfaced showing him holding a dead mountain lion he killed in what appeared to be a recent big game hunt. (Courtesy photo)

Fish and Game to meet today in Riverside
San Jose Mercury News
Created: 03/06/2012 06:48:14 PM PST

Hunters and environmentalists don’t often agree.

But there’s no dispute between them on one thing: Last week’s sizzling controversy over whether a top California wildlife official should be removed from his post for shooting a mountain lion in Idaho is about much more than mountain lions.

It’s the latest example of a cultural shift afoot in America’s most populous state – a profound change involving urban and rural, old and young, red and blue – in which the traditional political power of hunters and fishermen is in steady decline while environmentalists and animal rights groups have grown in influence.

Since 1970, the number of people with hunting licenses in California has fallen 61 percent, to just 268,000 last year, even as the state population has doubled.

Meanwhile, over the last 20 years, environmentalists and animal welfare groups have banned mountain lion hunting, outlawed steel leghold traps, established the nation’s largest network of “no fishing zones” off the coast, and defeated plans to expand black bear hunting – all over the objections of hunting and fishing groups who once dominated state wildlife policy.

Hunting advocates are alarmed at the trend.

“People who have no background whatsoever in wildlife jump on the huggy, cute, Bambi concept of it,” said Bill Karr, Northern California editor for Western Outdoor News, the state’s leading hunting and fishing newspaper.

“They think hunting is a blood sport. We have gotten away from the necessity of hunting for food, and people have distanced themselves from how food gets to the supermarket. When it comes to wildlife, people are really distanced from reality.”

Last month, the tensions over hunting erupted across the state when Karr’s newspaper published a photo of Dan Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission and Upland resident, grinning ear-to-ear and holding a 155-pound dead mountain lion. Richards, a San Bernardino County Republican and lifelong National Rifle Association member, shot the cougar while on a pheasant hunting trip on a ranch in Idaho.

“I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho,” he told the paper.

The state Fish and Game Commission will meet at 8:30 a.m. today at The Mission Inn, 3649 Mission Inn Ave. in Riverside. It is there first meeting since the fallout from the mountain lion shooting.

California voters outlawed mountain lion hunting 22 years ago.

The photo set off a maelstrom of controversy. The Humane Society, followed by 40 Democratic Assembly members and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, called for Richards’ resignation, saying he showed poor judgment and mocked the will of California’s voters whom he was supposed to be serving. Republican lawmakers, the NRA and the Safari Club rallied to his defense.

Richards can be removed by a simple majority vote of the Legislature, a vote that could come within a few days – and which could tip the balance of the powerful commission for the first time to a 3-2 environmental majority, if the governor appoints an environmental-leaning replacement.

The broad changes under way in California are linked to demographics.

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