Thursday, March 1, 2012

How a dead mountain lion roars

Dan Richards

One of the things they teach you in hunter education here in California is that it’s wise to avoid parading your dead animals around in ways that offend and upset non-hunters. Put the dead deer in the bed of your pickup, the instructors say; don’t strap it to the hood and drive it around town to show off.

There is, however, a huge exception that is unwritten, but generally understood: When we hunters are among our own, showing off our success to friends is allowed, even encouraged. We post “hero shots” of us with our prey on internet hunting forums. I’ve got a few hero shots on this blog. And the hunting magazines I read gleefully display hero shots of kids with their first (insert game animal here).

But it turns out there’s an exception to that rule too, and Dan Richards found that out the hard way last month when he sent a photo of himself holding up a mountain lion he killed in Idaho to the Western Outdoor News, a weekly hook-n-bullet newspaper.

While his hunt was 100 percent legal in Idaho, it would’ve been illegal in California, because Californians have repeatedly voted to ban mountain lion hunting.

So, who cares, right?

Here’s the hitch: Richards is the president of the California Fish and Game Commission.

Now who cares? The Humane Society of the U.S., which is ever alert to opportunities it can exploit. HSUS pitched a fit, alerted its members and started spouting off to the press.

“It’s not illegal. But he’s thumbed his nose at the people of California,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s supposed to be representing the interests of all California citizens. It seems like such a tone-deaf action. What part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?”

Well, that’s ridiculous, pure and simple. California voters banned gay marriage in 2008 – a decision I disagree with as much as I disagree with the mountain lion hunting ban – but I don’t hear anyone screaming about gay Californians who get married in other states where it’s legal.

The problem is that logic is irrelevant here: Non-hunters, especially non-hunters in California – have a visceral reaction to predator hunting. It doesn’t matter that Richards did nothing wrong, because he did something unwise by putting it out there where the anti-hunters could exploit it.

There is a long list of people who are now calling for his resignation, including a raft of Democratic state legislators, who have the majority in both houses, and the authority to vote for his removal.

Interestingly enough, the list also includes Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won national attention in 2004 when, as mayor of San Francisco, he ordered the city-county clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite the fact that gay marriage wasn’t legal. (Uh, what part of ‘no’ doesn’t he understand?)

Sadly, it just doesn’t matter that this is a kerfuffle rife with hypocrisy. This is a state under one-party control, a state whose major population centers – Los Angeles and San Francisco – are pretty sympathetic to the animal-rights cause, even as many of their denizens line up to gobble burgers made from dead cows at trendy fast food places like In-N-Out Burger.

Richards may lose his position on the Fish and Game Commission, and if he does, hunters here will likely pay the price. All of us.

Will hunting be banned without him on the Commission? I doubt it. But will hunters’ rights and opportunities erode faster? In all likelihood, yes.

There is, however, one wild card in this hand, and that’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, known nationwide to people of a certain age as Gov. Moonbeam. While the Legislature can remove commission members, it’s the governor who appoints them, so it would be his call on who would take Richards’ place if he’s ousted.

This is Brown’s second time around as governor after a nearly three-decade break, and he’s not always predictable. When he was gearing up for his 2010 run, he brilliantly posted one of those "25 Random Things” memes on Facebook, and one of them was this:

13. I’ve been duck hunting with Chief Justice Warren, but not with Vice President Cheney.

So, if Richards is booted, Brown could surprise us and appoint another hunter. But with the precarious state of hunting here in the land of fruits and nuts, I’d just rather not be in a position where I have to depend on that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012


jryoung said...

I have tried to remain calm on this issue, but it drips with so much hypocrisy I just can't stand it.

We could argue the issues illegal acts in CA, gay marriage, gambling, speeding on the autobahn, all acts that perfectly legal in other states/countries.

We could argue the illegal acts assemblymembers have committed, Mary Hayashi (shoplifting), Carol Migden (reckless driving sending someone to the hospital), and Tim Donnelly (trying to board a plane with a loaded handgun).

And let's not forget Mr. Newsom for questioning whether or not Dan Richards could uphold the values the people of CA have bestowed upon him...yeah, I'm sure you're wife felt that way when you made your vows to eachother.

I didn't think Dan's letter was a little over the top in reply, and I wish he would have focused more on issues that the DFG needs (fighting poachers, protecting recources, etc. etc.)

Certainly I can understand why he is pissed off because everyone has been completely distracted as to what the real issue is.

Holly Heyser said...

I agree - this whole thing pisses me off too. But being right or righteous counts for nothing here. What we really need to be talking about is why hunters' voices ARE needed on the commission, because this could easily come down to a Jerry Brown appointee, and HSUS is working hard to marginalize our voice and role in wildlife decisions.

Phillip said...

A couple things...

First of all, now, if ever, is the time when California's hunters really REALLY need to speak up and make the noise they're capable of making. Will it matter? It may not save Richards (a damned shame), but it will at least show Gov. Brown that we are willing to step up for ourselves and take action. Prop 117 passed, in large part, because hunters did not take action and allowed themselves to be divided. The lead ammo ban passed because hunters did not speak up until it was way too late.

Hunters are a minority in this state (in most states), but that doesn't mean that we have no strength. But if we don't exercise it, unanimously, it goes away.

If Richards does fall as a result of this foolishness, it will be a HUGE victory for HSUS and the anti-hunters in California. It won't mean the end of hunting as we know it here, but it will definitely undermine what little say we have left in regards to hunting and fishing regulation.

It's infuriatingly idiotic, but as you said, Holly, it's not about logic. It's about the HSUS exploiting an opportunity and playing the hell out of public opinion.

David J Blackburn said...

A fine article! I realized as much as the information content was irritating me, your artistry in writing made up for it.

You got to find silver linings, I always say.

Holly Heyser said...

Sadly, as I follow the developments of this story each day - and there have been lots of developments - I see things getting worse and worse. Not a good situation.

Aloysius said...

I disagree with the tactics used by the HSUS to vilify Dan, however, I understand why Californias want lion hunting outlawed. I am curious about your view on predator hunting considering your hunting philosophy states very strongly that hunters should eat what they kill. And you seem to frown on hunters that only breast out their ducks or throw away incidental kills such as coots when they are out duck hunting.

Do predator hunters eat the mountain lions and coyotes they kill? I know they don't because I have seen the rotting carcasses of coyotes hanging on fence posts and trees. If hunters don't eat these animals, then I suppose the argument is that the danger they pose to humans and livestock justifies their being killed.

Is it really morally just that predators are hunted just because humans keep encroaching on their natural environment? I believe most of these lions are hunted far from human establishments, so the human danger justification is sort of void. In California, lion hunting is apparently illegal, yet these lions don't really seem to be doing a good job at controlling the human population. Earth's human population = 7 billion and rising.

Holly Heyser said...

Personally, I'm not going to hunt something I won't eat. I know there are circumstances in which hunting these animals may be, or seem, necessary. I would kill a mountain lion that's threatening me or my animals. I would also have no qualms about eating lion - my dad did as a kid during the Depression, and he said they tasted good, like pork.

Is predator hunting morally just? Good question. I think there is nothing morally just about humanity's "humans first, screw the rest of the planet's living things" mentality, but I'm condemning a LOT of practices when I say that.

Wanna know why I won't just come out and say "Predator hunting is wrong?" It's because I don't know that it is wrong. Hunting has taught me a lot of lessons, the first one being how wrong I was about hunting before I started doing it. Hunting seemed totally unjustified and nonsensical to me; now I get it.

The same may be true of predator hunting. I haven't done it, or been around many people who do it, so I really don't know it enough to take a strong stand.

Ryan Sabalow said...

If anything, it's a good reminder that hunters are vastly outnumbered in this state. And, as you say, we need to be mindful of how our actions are perceived by those who oppose what we do.

It also wouldn't surprise me at all see the HSUS use this as leverage to push another anti-hunting ballot measure through.

Sigh. And folks ask why I'm considering moving to a more hunter-friendly state.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh yeah, I'm waiting for that shoe to drop.

I envy people who live in places where hunting is understood. I don't like being in battle mode all the time. said...

There is a very interesting interview with Dan Richards that can be linked to at:

Kerfuffle rife with hypocrisy, right, which is why we need him. BTW, he did apparently eat mountain lion.

Chris Lewis

Jon S said...

More than anything I think it just reflects poor judgement. There are a lot of metaphors you can use to either make this better or worse, but the gist of it is a guy who is supposed to be a standard-bearer failed to represent. He purposely went to another state to do something that is illegal here (for better or worse).

As an aside, in terms of sportsmanship, cat hunting is pretty far down the ladder. You're shooting something in a tree.

Holly Heyser said...

I really have no problem about him going out of state to do something that's illegal here. If I ever get the opportunity to hunt swans or sandhill cranes - both of which are illegal in California - I'm going to go for it.

I'm also not concerned about sportsmanship. An eight-hour hunt sounds like work to me. And the fact that the lion was treed? I'm usually the first to admit that I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of shooting a treed animal, but let's be realistic: How do you think ducks feel when they're coming in for a landing with some happy-sounding ducks on the water only to find out it's an ambush, and their friends start dropping all around them, and they're really vulnerable because they were almost on the water, and now they have to reverse course fast? The truth is that killing isn't pretty, and any animal that doesn't die instantly on the first shot is going through the same terror that a treed animal might feel.

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