The president of the California Fish and Game Commission received strong support Wednesday to remain on the board after creating a fury by killing a mountain lion out of state.
More than 60 people spoke in favor of Dan Richards during a 2 1/2-hour public comment session at the commission's first public meeting since lawmakers and animal-rights activists called for his resignation.
The meeting, held near Richard's home in San Bernardino County, was packed with hunters and fishermen.
"The bottom line is that he did nothing illegal," said Doug Elliott, who runs the state's largest catfish farm. "They've chosen this issue to maybe rid the commission of a conservative voice. This has been blown way out of proportion."
Richards, a Republican commercial real estate developer, has maintained he will not step down from his appointed position, despite efforts to remove him by 40 members of the state Assembly, the lieutenant governor and animal rights activists.
Richards was lambasted by critics over a photo that shows him with a mountain lion he shot during a January visit to Idaho. Hunting mountain lions is legal in Idaho and other states but banned in California.
Richards, who declined to comment about the issue during a break, said he appreciated the turnout that had differing opinions and good dialogue.
A few people who spoke out against Richards said he used poor judgment posing for a photo with the dead cougar and did a disservice to Californians who have twice voted down statewide efforts to reinstate mountain lion hunting.
"What he did was legal, but he's supposed to at least look like he supports the will of the people of California," said Robin Parks of the Mountain Lion Foundation. "What he's done is poked his finger in the eyes of Californians."
Richards also has caught flak for some of the comments he made following the dustup. He noted that he ate what he shot, and during a radio interview on a Los Angeles conservative talk show said it tasted more like pork loin than chicken.
The Humane Society of the United States asked supporters to not attend the commission meeting, saying it wasn't the forum to debate the issue. The organization has called for lawmakers to remove Richards from his post.
"The doubts about Dan Richards' ability to lead the Fish and Game Commission grow by the day, not only because of his guided mountain lion hunt in Idaho, but also his severe mishandling of the criticism directed his way," said the society's senior state director Jennifer Fearing.
Richards also faces an ethics complaint alleging he illegally accepted a $6,800 gift from a ranch on the Idaho trip. Under California law, officials can't accept gifts valued at more than $420 a year.
Joseph Peterson, manager of the Flying B Ranch in Idaho where the hunting occurred, said he asked Richards to shoot the mountain lion as part of an effort to control the population of the animals at the site.
Fellow commission member Jim Kellogg said he was contacted by some lawmakers who wondered if they should support an effort to have Richards step down. Kellogg advised against it.
"My message is, he who is without sin cast the first stone," said Kellogg, who noted he has hunted out of state and been urged to shoot wolves. "Having done that, and if I do as of this meeting, you won't see no picture of me."