Related story: Lt. Gov. Newsom asks for Fish and Game Commission chief's resignation


The embattled president of California's Fish and Game Commission has pushed back at his critics, telling them he did nothing wrong by killing a mountain lion on a big game hunt in Idaho.

Dan Richards, an Upland resident, also vowed he would not to resign.

"While I respect our Fish and Game rules and regulations, my 100 percent legal activity outside of California, or anyone else's for that matter, is none of your business," Richards wrote in a letter to state lawmakers calling for his ouster.

Dan Richards
Dan Richards (Courtesy photo)

Richards also wrote that "contrary to so many erroneous reports," he didn't use a high-powered rifle and "we did dine on Mountain Lion for dinner" that night.

In recent days, 40 Democratic Assembly members and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom have sent letters asking Richards to resign. They've accused him of thumbing his nose at California voters who have banned mountain lion hunting twice at the ballot box, in 1990 and 1996.

If Richards, a Republican appointed to the commission by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, doesn't quit he could be removed by the Legislature by a simple majority vote, which could tip the balance of the powerful commission away from hunting interests to environmental interests.

At the end of his letter to Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who has organized the campaign against him, Richards wrote: "There is ZERO chance I would resign my position."

Jennifer Fearing, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said the letter would only increase the likelihood that Richards will soon be removed by state lawmakers.

"We never said Richards' Idaho trophy kill was illegal," she said. "We said it showed poor judgment. And this letter is just another example of horrendously bad decision-making and why Richards no longer has the trust of Californians and the Legislature."

Meanwhile, Joseph Peterson, the guide who led Richards on the hunt in January at the 5,000-acre Flying B Ranch in northern Idaho, said Richards went to the ranch seeking to hunt pheasants. Peterson said that he asked Richards, whom he had not previously met, if he wanted to kill a mountain lion because the ranch was trying to stem a recent increase in the number of lions as a way to preserve deer and other big game popular with sport hunters there.

"He killed the cat as a favor to me, to help our predator management on the ranch," Peterson said, adding that he did not charge Richards the ranch's normal $6,800 fee for a lion hunt.

"The cat would have died if Dan was here or not," Peterson said.

Peterson said he tracked the lion for 15 hours, and Richards tracked it for about eight hours, through miles of hilly country in the snow. After the lion, a 3-year-old male, was driven up a tree by hunting dogs, Richards shot it, he said.

Richards sent a photo of himself holding the dead lion, which he left in Idaho to be taxidermied, to Western Outdoor News, a hunting newspaper. The paper published the photo, prompting an outcry from the Humane Society, Sierra Club and other groups.

Peterson said he thinks Richards is being treated unfairly. But he added that Richards seemed to know his actions would be controversial in California, where former Gov. Ronald Reagan first banned mountain lion hunting in 1972 in five-year increments.

California voters then made the ban permanent with the passage of Proposition 117 in 1990.

"I didn't realize, although Dan may have, that it would cause that big of a fuss," Peterson said. "He knows the people in his state. He said he was going to have that photo in some publications down there. He mentioned it would cause some stir among the environmentalists. He knew it would cause some trouble."

Peterson said critics, who have bombarded his Facebook page with negative comments, misunderstand much of his ranch's operation.

The ranch kills only one to four lions a year on its property, he said. It also offers fly-fishing and other activities, along with hunts for birds, deer, wolves, bears and elk. And many of the people who hunt lions on the ranch actually consume them as they would venison, he said.

"We do eat them," he said. "It's like lean pork. It's fairly common in Idaho and western Montana. I have guests who ask me to send them cougar meat from all over the country.'

Richards is a co-managing partner of Rancho Cucamonga-based Colonies Partners LP.

Another Colonies co-managing partner, Jeff Burum, was indicted in May 2011, along with three other men - former Supervisor Paul Biane, Jim Erwin, a former assistant assessor and former chief of staff to Supervisor Neil Derry, and Mark Kirk, a former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt - on charges of bribery, conflict of interest, tax fraud, tax evasion, perjury and forgery in San Bernardino County's $102 million settlement with Colonies in 2006. The four have denied they took part in any illegal activity, and some of the charges have been dismissed.