Hunting Takes Another PR Hit – Mountain Lion Killed By CA F&G President

February 20, 2012

This isn’t news.  It’s all over the Internet, and making the pages of newspapers and editorial columns as well.

I first saw the photo show up on my Facebook page on Friday night or Saturday.  It was attached to a message from the Humane Society of the US, condemning the hunter and “trophy hunting” as well.  I started to reply, but simply couldn’t get motivated enough to respond.

So the story, as I’ve got it from Tom Stienstra’s column (San Francisco Chronicle) is like this.  Dan Richards, recently named President of the CA Fish and Game Commission went to Idaho to hunt mountain lions.  In itself, this shouldn’t be a big deal.  Many states recognize the value in allowing hunters to shoot large predators under controlled conditions (seasons, limits, etc.).  That’s no different than the way any other game species is managed.

Of course, there’s a lot of discussion about hunting predators, particularly by people who feel that hunters should only kill what they’re going to eat (well, more particularly by people who think all hunting is an atrocity… but I’m not really interested in them right now).  Since “everyone knows” that you can’t eat mountain lion, then this hunt falls right in there with the coyote and ground squirrel hunters.  Right?

Except, in point of fact, many people do eat mountain lion and proclaim the quality of the meat.  “Similar to pork,” is the most common description.  I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity to try it myself, although in CA, that opportunity will never legally present itself.  Mountain lion hunting is banned in CA, based on a heavy propaganda campaign and misinformation that led people to believe the lion population was endangered.  I don’t want to go down that road here, because it’s a discussion in itself… and a futile one at that.  The only way mountain lion hunting will ever happen in CA is if the voters approve it.  That’s not likely in this state.  Instead, the state and federal trappers, as well as landowners and ranchers, are killing lions to protect livestock, pets, and humans on a pace that has far outstripped the number killed by hunters prior to the ban.  Most of these lions are killed and discarded, of no use to anyone but a couple of biologists.  But hey, as long as those “trophy hunters” aren’t killing them for their hides and heads!

So back to Mr. Richards and the crap-storm of reaction to his photo… and his hunt.

Everything he did was legal (although under CA law, I don’t believe he’s permitted to bring any parts of that cat back into the state… what’s his plan there?).  I’m not sure if he planned to eat the lion or not, and honestly, I’m not sure it’s wholly relevant.  Oh, of course the HSUS would like people to believe that nobody eats lions, and that hunting things we’re not going to eat is immoral and inhumane.  And truthfully, they’ll probably get a handful of self-righteous (and short-sighted) hunters to jump on the bandwagon to condemn the practice.  I can practically hear their voices now.  “That’s not hunting!” they’ll shout.  “I only kill what I’m going to eat!”

And then they’ll go on about how this is the reason hunting has such a bad reputation, and stuff like this is going to be the end of hunting as we know it… how this is a black eye for the sport, and fuel for the antis, and all the other trite and cliched arguments.  The thing is, there’s some truth there.  When people who are ignorant about hunting see this sort of thing and hear this uproar, they definitely form opinions.  If the uproar is negative, the opinions are negative.  And why not?

Let’s think about it.

It’s a given that most people recognize that we have to kill in order to eat meat.  Eating a steak while the cow is still alive is a bit more challenge than the average guy can stomach, and could you imagine the noise a pig would make if you started grinding sausage while he’s still alive?    You’ve got to kill them first.  With this in mind, it’s really not a huge leap for the average person to grok the idea of killing a deer or an elk for meat.  Even the folks who can’t imagine doing the deed themselves accept the meat hunter.

It’s also not a big stretch for people to accept the need to kill certain pests.   Almost anyone who’s ever had an attic destroyed by racoons, or had their wiring gnawed by squirrels can relate to the concept of judicious extermination.  Even though these animals may not be eaten (although squirrel and ‘coon are both quite tasty, properly prepared), they’ve got to go.  Simply waving your arms and yelling at them isn’t going to do the trick.

But when it comes to pest control and extermination, the common perception is that this is the realm of the professional.  You pay someone to come and do an unpleasant job.  Some faceless guy in coveralls shows up, sprays some stuff or drops some pellets in out-of-the-way nooks and crannies, and the bad critters just disappear.

It’s difficult for non-hunters to fathom the idea of going out and killing pest species “for fun”.  Yet there’s a huge segment of the hunting community that basically does just that, whether they’re out to shoot ground squirrels, prairie dogs, coyotes, or ground hogs (or even feral hogs for that matter).  I remember as a kid, growing up in rural North Carolina, the summer evening “rat shoots” along the irrigation ditches to keep them out of the grain bins.  A bunch of the neighbors would park at “Buck” Seymour’s barn and line the ditch banks with .22s, .410s, and anything else that was handy.  I was always there with my Red Ryder.  At the same time, many of my friends and I learned to shoot by popping rats with .22s at the local dump (a pastime so pervasive in parts of the rural culture that it became part of Luke Skywalker’s backstory in Star Wars!).

And I’ll say it right here and right now.  It was a lot of fun!

Was this wrong?  Perverse?  Did all of these people go on to become sociopathic killers, animal abusers, or rapists?  I’m pretty sure they didn’t.  Research, by the way, actually suggests that hunters are no more likely to exhibit sociopathic or violent behavior than any other segment of the population.  We’re just guided by a slightly different moral compass, and every individual takes his or her own heading.

How many people have swatted a relatively harmless insect while outside?  I’m not talking about a mosquito or biting fly… just an annoying bug that happened to pass too close and too slow.  Does this make you a stone-cold killer?  Did you suffer a moral quandary after taking that tiny, buzzing life?  Do you shed a tear or mouth a silent prayer everytime a bug splatters on your windshield, or a frog splatters under your tires?  Probably not.

Point is, there’s a lot of indiscriminate killing out there and most people don’t give it a second thought.  But when the killing is discriminate, such as the hunting of a mountain lion or coyote, it’s suddenly of utmost importance to the future of the human collective psyche?  Why is this, and does it really matter if the intent is to provide food or to collect a “trophy”?

I can no more explain the thrill of a lion hunt than I can explain the thrill of reading a good autobiography.  Some people get it, and some don’t.  Personally, I’m not really excited by either prospect, but I can’t see a good reason to condemn the people who are.

It’s an interesting coincidence, by the way, that even as this discussion is circling the Web, the folks over at the Orion Institute are announcing their second “Hunting Think Tank”.  The stated objective of the sessions is to take a look at the body of literature that attempts to define “hunting”, and then to try to come up with their own definition that will make hunting (or the idea of hunting) more appealing to the general public.  How they will deal with issues like this one (predator hunting) remains to be seen.  I’m interested and curious, but a little skeptical too.  Defining such a personal and experiential concept in any meaningful way is sure to be a challenge.


12 Responses to “Hunting Takes Another PR Hit – Mountain Lion Killed By CA F&G President”

  1. Neil H on February 20th, 2012 17:46

    It’s interesting that this post published today.

    Yesterday, while hunting pigs, I saw something amazing. Five mountain lions- most likely a mother and it’s grown cubs- all at once. I consider it a once in a lifetime experience. It was astounding and wonderful. I tend to like predators, and I’ve made more than one excuse to landowners for not shooting coyotes. I watched a coyote for 5 minutes at 50 yards a couple weeks ago, until his sibling popped over a rise and saw me. I’ve watched others for an hour at a hundred yards.

    That being said, I’m in California. And being reasonably educated, I can do math. Those 5 cats represent 3 to 5 deer a week. I think of the 20 to 30 square miles each cat needs. I think of how deer can integrate closely with the many, many incursions to habitat by humans. If the cats followed the natural balances of things to create equilibrium, they’d have to follow those deer, except there’s now not enough room for the overlapping territories needed without bumping into people, pets, and livestock. But as far as the expanding human population, just try to discuss birth rates and immigration with almost anyone in this or any other state. You’ll get nowhere, from every side. So we have conflict and cats being pushed into suburban areas.

    I love predators, but I’d rather have them managed by biologists, not a political referendum by people ignorant of reality. I might not be the one who’d ever want to hunt them, or shoot them for depredation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the need. Like all things, a balance is needed.

    I’d like to think I’m reasonably quiet and pay attention to wind. Did I mention walking up on a coyote to 50 yards? But somehow I didn’t see one single deer in three days on that thousand acre ranch.

    As far as the furor over Mr. Richard’s hunt? Would these same people have their panties in a bunch if Mr. Richards went to Iowa to marry a person of his choosing that’s not legal here? Both are legal and his right to do, and should have no bearing on his job.

  2. Phillip on February 20th, 2012 19:39

    Great comments, Neil, and I couldn’t agree more. Although I will usually shoot coyotes at a landowner’s request, I certainly don’t go out of my way to do so. As far as lions, I’d rather watch them than shoot them… but I totally understand that, like anything else, they have to be managed if we (humans) expect to keep living the way we do.

  3. NorCal Cazadora on February 21st, 2012 09:57

    I’ve been holding off writing about this because I’m pitching it as an op-ed to a newspaper, but I have been following it closely. According to San Diego Union-Tribune outdoor reporter Ed Zieralski, Richards owns a hunting cabin in Idaho and that’s where he plans to put the mount (or whatever he’s going to do with the lion).

    And Neil, your point on gay marriage is precisely what occurred to me when I first caught wind of this. But more on that when I either blog it or write about it for the newspaper.

    (BTW, here’s the U-T link:

  4. Phillip on February 21st, 2012 12:30

    Thanks, Holly, and good luck with the pitch.

    This thing never should have made the splash it did, and anyone who doubts the agenda of the folks who brought it to light need to consider, among other things, the fact that while many species of game animals can’t be hunted in CA, there’s no restriction on bringing the meat, hides, or mounts of those animals back into the state. It’s only mountain lions, and only became law with the enactment of Prop 117 as an intentional jab at CA hunters who would have to travel out of state to hunt lions. There’s no legal or logical reason for this part of the ban except to punish hunters.

  5. Tony on February 21st, 2012 13:33

    Dear Phillip,
    Headline: “…Anti-hunting Activist Wayne Pacelle Criticizes Fish & Game Commissioner for Hunting Game…”.

    Hmmmm, must be a slow news cycle. I don’t see any man biting a dog here.

    Personally, I would have preferred news coverage on the water permit waivers that Monterey Bay Aquarium needs to discharge effluent into a marine reserve.

    Or perhaps that marine biologists are advocating wind power turbines with serrations on the leading edge that match the profile found on the fins of humpback whales.

    To each his own, I guess…….

  6. Phillip on February 23rd, 2012 06:50

    Sorry not to respond earlier, Tony. You’re absolutely right, of course. Seems like if we were going to see some pointed criticism of members of the Fish and Game Commission, there are probably some more egregious issues that could be raised… notably related to the Monterey Aquarium.

    But that’s how the game is played. It’s hard to get people worked up about bureaucratic wrangling, but pretty easy to get folks up in arms over a picture of a big, dead mammal and some vague accusations. CA is, after all, the land of WR Hearst… whatever sells papers!

  7. Joshua on February 23rd, 2012 14:28

    Good post. I love that this guy comes from Gov. Brown.

    As for news cycles, Phillip, California ain’t the only one that goes for blood and guts over bureaucracy. Don’t be sad when your Texas papers aren’t chock-full of deep insights into government regulatory discussions.

  8. Call To Action – Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Richards Needs Support : Hog Blog on February 28th, 2012 16:44

    […] to be a particularly political blog, and I’m not crazy about jumping on a bandwagon.  But in the case of Fish and Game Commissioner, Dan Richards, I can’t help sticking my fingers in the mix.  I simply can’t believe how much […]

  9. E Crowell on February 29th, 2012 01:30

    It’s completely hypocritical to supposedly represent a fair and balanced position in your state-paid job to protect the laws And the spirit of the laws of the state and then have the gaul to spit on those laws. Imagine being the DA in Idaho, which outlaws marijuana, and then come to CA and to smoke dope and get caught doing it?

    Do you think they’d ask you to resign? Hell, yes.

    You have to eat your own dog food. Daniel Richards makes the rest of us hunters who hunt game look bad because he’s a hypocrite. He needs to resign.

  10. Phillip on February 29th, 2012 08:01

    E Crowell, the fish and game commission is not charged with protecting law. That is the domain of the Dept. of Fish and Game. The FGC recommends regulations for the protection and preservation of CA’s natural resources… not for the resources of other states. The idea that going to a state to hunt a species that you can’t hunt in CA somehow “spits on” the laws of CA is ludicrous. That would imply that every CA resident who went out of this state to hunt species not available here was doing the same thing, whether they travel to Idaho or Colorado to hunt mountain lions (as many do), or travel to Africa to hunt African lions. It makes absolutely no sense.

  11. Final Chapter In Dan Richards Saga? : Hog Blog on March 15th, 2012 13:01

    […] Richards is the President of the CA Fish and Game Commission.  He was recently at the center of a great brouha over legally hunting and killing a mountain lion in Idaho… despite the fact that such a hunt […]

  12. Cool Story, Big Adventure – Shikarcamp Blog : Hog Blog on March 27th, 2012 08:54

    […] light of the recent Dan Richards controversy, this story should challenge the preconceptions of anyone who thinks hunting lions with hounds is a […]