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LeBuff authors book chronicling the history of ‘Ding’ Darling’s refuge

By Staff | Sep 23, 2011

Charles LeBuff shows off his new book that chronicles the history of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to Paul Tritaik, refuge manager. The book will be available for purchase Sept. 26 and there will be signed copies at the “Ding” Darling gift shop inside the education center. LeBuff will also be hosting book signings and lecutres around the island.

The new ‘J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’ book is written by a man who spent 32 of his 48 years on Sanibel Island as a refuge employee involved in day-to-day management. Charles LeBuff was the second permanent refuge employee hired by refuge manager Tommy Wood — to whom the book is dedicated.

“There was a need for this book,” said LeBuff, who hopes this work will provide an interesting historical journey through the years, bearing witness to how and why the refuge was created, has grown, matured and prospered.

LeBuff tells the story of how one influential winter resident inspired islanders to come together and preserve the land they had grown to love. Pulitzer Prize winner and syndicated editorial cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling wintered on Captiva Island and advocated the establishment of the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge, which was formed in December 1945. It started with an initial lease of 2,000 acres of mangroves from the State of Florida.

Due to pressure from Darling, President Harry S. Truman made a proclamation in December 1947 that declared Sanibel and Captiva islands as a closed area under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. On Aug. 15, 1967, five years after Darling’s death, the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge officially became the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in his honor. It has been the most significant conservation effort to date.

“The book gives a good sense on how it became the refuge and a sense of appreciation for the groundwork that was laid,” said current refuge manager Paul Tritaik, whose picture can be found in the book that boasts more than 200 vintage images and memories of days gone by.

Charles LeBuff, author of a new Images of America book that portrays the history of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, sits at a desk once occupied by pioneer conservationist himself. During LeBuff’s 32-year career at the refuge, he was fortunate enough to meet “Ding” Darling during one of his last visits to the island.

LeBuff carefully selected a series of images and wrote comprehensive captions that best portray the history of the “Ding” Darling refuge. Throughout the book, LeBuff draws widely on his personal involvement with the refuge. After all, it is here where he has spent most of his life.

In 1958, LeBuff accepted a position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on what was known as Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge. During his 32-year career at the refuge, LeBuff was fortunate enough to meet with Darling twice during the cartoonist’s last visit to the islands in 1959.

“He was worried about the sea turtles,” noted LeBuff.

After being urged by Darling to help island sea turtles, LeBuff intensified his private efforts in the study of marine turtles and was an early activist in their conservation. He pioneered sea turtle conservation efforts in Southwest Florida, beginning his earliest work on area beaches to protect loggerhead turtles in 1954. In 1968, he formed Carretta Research, Inc. and Sanibel-Captiva residents enthusiastically support his efforts financially.

“Charles is a conservationist of Sanibel, like “Ding,” and we must never forget that,” Tritaik said.

When the local political mood surged toward over-development of the barrier islands and the Lee County government was planning to allow Sanibel to build-out until it was over crowded with 90,000 residents, island citizens mobilized and in 1974 voted to break from the county government through the incorporation process. Late that year, the City of Sanibel was created and LeBuff was privileged enough to be selected.

Now retired, with four previous books under his belt, LeBuff spends his time travelling, reading the herpetological literature, writing (he is co-authoring two future books), researching his family’s genealogy, and woodcarving.

He is still amazed how he ever found time to hold down a regular job during his 32-year federal career and won many specialty achievement awards with so many extraneous interests that were challenging and always drove him to try and succeed in them all.

“It is not just about the refuge, but how it and Sanibel go hand-in-hand,” he said about what readers should glean from the book.

Highlights include the real story behind how the refuge’s popular Wildlife Drive was aligned and constructed, as well as the chronology of managers and staff members over a 60-year period.

“The book is really great,” said Lise Bryant, manager of the refuge’s gift shop, where signed copies will be available Sept. 26. “My favorite picture is this one,” she said pointing to a shot of Darling and his good friend Belton Johnson fishing from a boat in Roosevelt Channel between Buck Key and Captiva Island.

Images of America J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will be available Sept. 27 at area bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Images of America has published 267 books on Florida, including ‘Sanibel Island’ written by Yvonne Hill and Marguerite Jordan in May 2008. It documents significant roles of both black and white pioneers by combining text with captivating images that celebrate the island’s fabulous history.