Plains Folk

Bald Open Prairie


John J. Lynch was a story-teller who loved a good joke, including one at his own expense. He also is a folk-hero on the northern plains, at least among wildlife biologists. He was the guy who, in 1951, said, in plain words, just how important the northern plains are to waterfowl populations. His ideas are directly related to things that are important to owners of Browning shotguns and Labrador retrievers across the land: the seasons and bag limits for waterfowl hunting.


Beginning in the 1930s, but especially in the years following the Second World War, when there were a lot of pilots, such as Johnny Lynch, available for hire, the fish and wildlife services of the United States and Canada refined their techniques for estimating waterfowl populations through aerial surveys. Most of the pioneering work along these lines took place on the Canadian prairies.


This led federal officials to believe they could calibrate bag limits in order to harvest just the right numbers of just the right species so as not to deplete the breeding population. Some of you, like me, remember the complicated point systems of years past. How you could shoot 100 points worth of ducks, and greenheads counted 20 points, except on Tuesdays with a full moon, when they counted 40 points, or on the Saturday when UND played NDSU, when nobody went hunting anyway.


OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the arrogant positivism of federal wildlife officials was exasperating, and the limits were hard to memorize, and game wardens felt bad about issuing citations to guys who maybe just weren’t very good at math.


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