Remembering Johnny Lynch on the 50th Anniversary of the Waterfowl Population Surveys
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Waterfowl Population Surveys. Over the years, the survey program has evolved into the largest and most reliable wildlife survey effort in the world.
Each year, trained pilots with waterfowl biology degrees, take to the skies in one of the most harrowing forms of flying there is – waterfowl surveying. Known as field or flyway biologists, these pilots fly at reduced speed, skimming just above the ground, avoiding trees, mountains, hills, towers and other obstructions. All the while, they have to stay in a straight line counting 30 or more species of waterfowl, recording the data and coordinating it with other observers.
Naturally, when you fly with ducks and geese on a regular basis, you gain a unique perspective into the world of waterfowl. One flyway biologist in particular, John J. "Johnny" Lynch, will forever be remembered for the insights he gained and the knowledge he shared as a visionary flyway biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the 1940s and 50s, Lynch helped design and conduct the first scientific surveys of waterfowl populations. His findings are still revered today as definitive works on the science of waterfowl management.
Ducks Unlimited’s Chief Biologist Dr. Bruce Batt explains, "Johnny Lynch developed an incredible understanding of the factors that drive mid-continent duck populations. Even with all of our modern technology and decades of additional data, we have really only fine-tuned and refined the fundamental concepts described by Lynch more than 50 years ago."
Lynch passed on his love for science and waterfowl to his children and grandchildren, which is largely why his grandson, Chad Courville, is doing what he does today. Chad is a Regional Biologist for Ducks Unlimited in Louisiana, and he attributes his appreciation of waterfowl, wetlands and the great outdoors to his grandfather.
"I tell everyone that waterfowl biology is genetic in me. I almost didn’t have a choice," says Courville. "When you’re young and growing up around that kind of thing, it becomes a passion that doesn’t really ever go away."
Soon, Courville will share more than a passion with his grandfather. He’ll share an award. Courville was recently named Professional Wildlife Conservationist of the Year by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, Inc. In 1971, his grandfather received the same award for what the plaque calls his "outstanding contributions to the wise use and management of our natural resources."
One of Courville’s most vivid memories of his grandfather is not something he did, but something he said time and again. "Research should be spelled with a hyphen: Re-Search, meaning look again." Lynch understood that conditions – especially in nature – are constantly changing, so we shouldn’t base all of our work on one specific study, but instead take a holistic approach to management. That landscape-level approach is evident in many of his writings, such as Escape from Mediocrity, which many biologists consider a quintessential work on waterfowl management.
Fred Roetker, as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flyway Biologist based in Lafayette, LA, is doing the same job today that Lynch did years ago. "For anybody managing ducks, it ought to be a requirement of the job that they read Escape from Mediocrity, at least once a year, with no agenda, and in a setting that they can really appreciate it. I think it’ s a definitive work about duck management on this continent."
Not only was Lynch a consummate professional with invaluable insight, he was a real character with an ability to articulate things about nature in a way that is truly unique in his field.
Known for his astute observations in the waterfowl world, and for his no-nonsense writing style, Lynch is not only recommended reading for waterfowl biologists, he’s entertaining reading for anyone interested in ducks and geese.
"He could talk to anybody and make sense on any cultural level – from aboriginal groups in the Arctic to the heads of government," explains Roetker. "Johnny Lynch had that ability to talk to and bond with anyone."
The history of Johnny Lynch is rich with stories, and those stories are what intrigue Courville most about his grandfather. One particular story illustrates how gifted Lynch was with the written word.
"There’s a memo out there that he wrote about his vehicle," explains Roetker. "Lynch had this aging government station wagon, and he was trying to get a replacement. He hadn’t driven that wagon in a year or two because it wasn’t working, so he kept it in the yard where he’d been raising domestic geese. In his travels, the government required that he fill out a vehicle report detailing mileage, gas usage, etc. Someone in the government recognized there was a missing report, so they asked Lynch about it. As requested, he went outside to inspect this dilapidated car. Upon parting the brush to find the car, he noted in his report how the headlights had glazed over like the eyes of a pintail in the last throes of botulism."
According to all who knew or read Lynch’s work, that’s typical not only of his writing style, but of him: honest, entertaining and always insightful.
CLICK HERE to read Johnny Lynch's Escape from Mediocrity