Sunday morning, our good friend and partner Luke Lynch was killed in an avalanche while backcountry skiing on Mt. Moran just outside his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming. Luke loved the mountains. And the forest… and the high desert and sage brush steppe, and the rivers which lace it all together. He could not have been more committed to the conservation of open spaces in Wyoming and he worked hard just as he played hard, all the while fixated on adding more land to the conserved side of the ledger and ensuring the opportunity for future generations to work on the land and to enjoy it as he did. Although Luke’s personal interactions with the land were as an avid sportsman, he understood the importance of working lands and how critical Wyoming’s ranchlands are to wildlife and the habitat they need to survive.
As State Director for the Conservation Fund, Luke was an outstanding partner to the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust. Together, “the Fund” (as Luke always referred to his organization) and our Land Trust completed conservation easements on 13 projects since 2005. The Fund, thanks to Luke’s efforts to conserve sage grouse habitat, was also a donor to several additional projects that our Land Trust closed recently. All in, Luke was instrumental in the conservation of 16 Wyoming ranches, just shy of 61,000 acres. The quintessential “deal guy”, Luke would want you to know that the value of these permanent conservation easements exceeded $30 million. And, we have seven new projects we were working on together; my email box is full of messages from Luke, some unanswered due to my travels late this past week. How much I wish I could reply to them now.
One of the projects we have been working on is the protection of 4,000 acres of working ranchland at the base of Devils Tower, America’s first national monument. Owned by the Driskill family for more than a hundred years, it was a project that Luke cared about because it integrated all the pieces of what was important to him – wildlife habitat, an important viewshed for climbers and travelers visiting the monument, history, and a family dedicated to conservation. Now a State Senator for Crook County, Ogden Driskill was the Chairman of the Stock Growers Land Trust when we first started to work in partnership with Luke and The Conservation Fund. This morning he said what we all know to be profoundly true, “Luke was truly a leader in facilitating and funding conservation – his loss will be greatly felt by all in the conservation world.”
The only thing that Luke loved more than the outdoors was his family. Luke and his wife Kathy have three boys, Max, Will and Sam. Max was born in March 2009, Will in July 2011 and Sam arrived two years later. I loved listening to Luke laugh as he described the antics of his “pack” and their adventures. I am saddened that those adventures were cut short and that Luke won’t be there to teach them to become proficient in the things he loved so much to do. But I know that he will be watching and smiling as they venture out.