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Bully for ‘Ding!’

By Staff | Mar 18, 2009

Last week’s “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society (DDWS) Thursday Afternoon Lecture Series not only featured a presentation by “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge manager Paul Tritaik but also an appearance by the man who can be credited with establishing the National Wildlife Refuge System in the first place – President Theodore Roosevelt.

If not Roosevelt himself, a darn good imitation.

The presentation began with Tritaik, who joined the “Ding” Darling NWR staff in May 2008, pointing out highlights in the long and storied history of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the United States. By Executive Order on March 14, 1903, Roosevelt established the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge – located on Florida’s east coast – as the first unit of the present National Wildlife Refuge System.

Ironically, Tritaik’s position previous to joining the “Ding” Darling NWR was at Pelican Island.

One of the main reasons for establishing the National Wildlife Refuge System came out of a movement made by the National Audubon Society in the late 1800s. In that era, a fashion trend popularized the use of exotic bird feathers in ladies hats. At the time, a pound of feathers was worth twice twice their weight in gold. Audubon members called for establishing hunt limits after massive slaughters of reddish egrets, snowy egrets, great egrets and roseate spoonbills pushed those species to near extinction.

Roosevelt, reacting to the devastating slaughter of several animals – American bison, from 40 million to around 300), passenger pigeons (five billion to extinction) and the extermination of some 80 percent of all bird life in the State of Florida – and who made famous the term “conservation,” signed the order to establish Pelican Island.

That refuge’s first federally-funded employee, Paul Kroegel, was an Audubon warden whose salary was $1 per month.

By the time he left office, Roosevelt had established more than 50 National Wildlife Refuges, including those in Pine Island, Matlacha Pass and Island Bay. Refuges in Caloosahatchee (1920) and Sanibel (1939) were later added; all are currently under the jurisdiction of the “Ding” Darling NWR.

Following his presentation, Tritaik promised – and delivered – a special guest. “President Theodore Roosevelt,” as portrayed by actor and Roosevelt historian Joe Wiegand, offered some additional background on America’s “Rough Rider” and his influence on conservation which still thrives today.

Some quotes offered by “Teddy” included:

“The last four letters of AMERICAN are I CAN.”

“Keep your minds focused on what to do next.”

“They say Roosevelt has as much regard for the Constitution as a tomcat has for a marriage license.”

“Remember, it’s not the critic that counts.”

“I hope that I am remembered most for my legacy as a conservationist.”

The presidential impersonator also presented longtime refuge volunteer Mary Lou Schadt with a teddy bear to commemorate her 25 years at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

“I’ve always been interested in wildlife,” said Schadt, who has been a volunteer at the refuge since 1984. “I enjoy the work because it’s never the same – every day is different. That keeps me going.”

Tritaik also noted the importance of conducting public education courses, such as the DDWS Thursday Afternoon Lecture Series, as a means of drawing more attention to the refuge and their mission.

“The children of today aren’t getting outdoors as much as they should,” he added. “We want to promote fun and educational activities that they can participate in here at the refuge.”

For additional information about the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, visit www.fws.gov/dingdarling or, about the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, visit http://dingdarlingsociety.org.