California official replaced after killing cougar

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(AP) – The California Fish and Game Commission removed its president on Wednesday, months after he was criticized for killing a mountain lion in Idaho. Real estate developer Dan Richards was stripped of his leadership role with little discussion during a meeting in Ventura.

“I was fully aware today would be my last day as the president,” Richards said after a unanimous vote to replace him with member Jim Kellogg. Richards, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, has said he plans to remain on the five-member commission until his term expires in six months.

Conservationists clamored for his ouster after photos surfaced earlier this year of him holding the slain mountain lion. Hunting mountain lions is banned in California, though it’s legal in Idaho and other states.

“Californians have twice voted in a resounding fashion to protect mountain lions in our state, and his flagrant flaunting of his disagreement with the electorate put him out of sync with California,” said Jennifer Fearing, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “We’re glad to see the commission take action.”

Critics, including animal welfare groups, said the commission chief should uphold the values of the state he represents. Hunting groups defended Richards.

Richards also came under fire for accepting the $7,000 hunting trip without paying any of the cost. He repaid the hunting lodge after an ethics complaint was filed.

In the wake of the controversy, the commission changed rules that give the presidency to the most senior member of the commission and instead chose to have the president selected by majority vote.

He told the San Jose Mercury News during a recent interview that he broke no wildlife laws. “There’s no chance I did anything wrong,” Richards said. “I did everything by the book.”

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