‘Astonishing Intellect’, Joe Linduska

By Lonnie L. Williamson

Dr. Joseph Paul Linduska. When he died some years past, a sweet bit of life left me, too. Why we had been special friends, I cannot say for sure. Perhaps it was because we enjoyed each other’s somewhat sarcastic and irreverent sense of humor. Anyway, things somehow have not been the same.

Joe Linduska was born literally in a chicken coop in Butte, MT. That little structure sat about in the middle of what today must be the world’ largest man-made hole, a result of copper mining. Linduska’s grandfather had immigrated from the Czech Republic to Baltimore, MD, during the late 19th century. Reacting to a yellow fever outbreak, he loaded his family in a horse-drawn wagon and went to Montana where he found work in the copper mines. Linduska’s father was 7 years old at the time. He later married a beautiful young Czech lass who had immigrated alone to the United States when she was 16. She came here, she said, in order to learn English. She might have made a better choice than the Irish, Polish, German, Ukrainian, etc. bouillabaisse that was early Butte. But she did just fine, anyway.

Linduska’s mother and father took their vows apparently without much thought of where they would live in the copper boomtown of Butte. Consequently, they cleaned out a chicken coop in the backyard of Linduska’s grandfather and moved in. There Joe was born and lived for the first two years of his life.

Perhaps it was the raucous, multi-cultural atmosphere that he survived in rowdy Butte that gave Linduska his great sense of humor. Regardless, he always said that he had no friends in Butte because they all were either dead or in prison. But Linduska was fortunate in that, along with his humor, he also possessed an astonishing intellect that he managed to conceal most often by a rather gruff and intimidating exterior.

Linduska earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology and entomology from the University of Montana and a doctorate in vertebrate zoology from Michigan State University. His professional career began in 1940 as a research ecologist for the Michigan Department of Conservation, where he entered a life-long association with another OWAA legend, Durward Allen. In 1943, he went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and conducted award-winning research on disease-carrying insects of importance to the military. He returned to Michigan in 1946 and conducted statewide ring-necked pheasant surveys and completed related research.

After moving to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1947, Linduska organized and directed the first program to evaluate the effects of DDT and other pesticides on fish and wildlife. This pioneering work demonstrated the high toxicity, persistence and accumulative characteristics of chlorinated hydrocarbons. Years ago at an OWAA annual conference, one of our well-known, but less informed members was holding forth at an assembly that the fuss about DDT was “hogwash.” What made that event so memorable is my having to hold Linduska by his belt to keep him from mounting the stage and throttling the poor old fellow — a more endearing term than Linduska used. As I recall, Linduska said, “Turn loose my damn belt,” and “How did that stupid SOB get into this outfit?”

Linduska was named assistant chief of the USFWS’ Wildlife Research Branch in 1949 and chief of the Game Management Branch in 1951. Always wanting to see what lay over the next ridge, he left federal service in 1956 to become director of public relations and wildlife management for Remington Arms Company. He also was responsible for developing wildlife management and agricultural demonstration programs at Remington Farms, a 3,500-acre waterfowl and upland wildlife area on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Linduska returned to the USFWS in 1966 as associate director and headed that agency’s international affairs. That move was made to assure that his best friend and wife, Lilian, would have survivor benefits, which Remington did not supply at the time. Dear Mama Lilian deserves sainthood for enduring Linduska some six decades. She also has earned a front row seat in Beulahland for embracing me as a surrogate son during the bumps and bruises of my life. I love her to no end.

In the world arena, Linduska worked with heads of government in Europe, Asia and Africa. He became a particularly good friend with India’s Indira Ghandi while encouraging her to support tiger conservation. There are many great stories he lived during that time. The Russians were big buddies with Linduska because they admired his ability to consume quantities of vodka of which they had but dreamt. That questionable quality served him well once in a huge Moscow hotel. He became spiritually confused late one evening after leaving a cocktail party and stumbled into the large, unoccupied kitchen from which he could not find a way out. This was during the Cold War, and Linduska wound up as a guest of the KGB. He was retrieved by his buddy, the Soviet minister of natural resources, who had admired Linduska’s jovial participation in the preceding vodka fest.

After retiring from the USFWS in 1974, Linduska became vice president for science for the National Audubon Society and later consultant and advisor to that organization’s president and staff. He wrote two books, more than 50 technical papers and more than 100 popular articles. For three years, he wrote a monthly feature on wildlife management for Sports Afield magazine. He also produced a half-dozen movie and TV scripts on a wide variety of natural resource subjects. For all this, he received the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, the highest honor presented by The Wildlife Society. And, he was given the Interior Department’s Conservation Service Award, The Wildlife Society’s Conservation Education Award and OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs Award.

It would be unfair not to provide an example of Linduska’s humor, which defined his wonderful life. The problem is that most incidences are not printable. But there is one that he published once in a column that may adequately show the quick and spearing wit he possessed.

While Linduska was associate director of the USFWS, he and a colleague visited a national wildlife refuge in North Carolina to hunt geese. He, his pal and the refuge manager were settled in a blind and the geese cooperated. A nice gaggle sailed overhead, and the refuge manager jumped up and shouted, “Take’m! Take’m! Take’m!” Linduska and his pal blasted away and geese fell all around, with the refuge manager still yelling, “Take’m!” Suddenly the refuge manager quit squawking and fell to the blind floor coughing and gagging. Linduska thought the poor fellow had experienced a heart attack. He dropped his shotgun and dove down to lend aid. However, the manager spit out some awful looking stuff and croaked that one of the shot geese had deposited a load of fecal matter directly into his mouth. Feeling relieved from the heart attack scare, Linduska immediately quipped, “What the hell are you complaining about? If you hadn’t had your big mouth open that goose would have only crapped in your face.”

Freelancer Lonnie Williamson, of Athens, GA, was the 2000 recipient of OWAA’s J. Hammond Brown Memorial Award, which recognizes “devoted past service to the organization over a period of continuous years.” Williamson has been a member of OWAA since 1970.

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