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Fishing club, ‘Ding’ Darling partner up to combat Wildlife Drive overgrowth

By Staff | Feb 16, 2018

TIFFANY REPECKI The Sanibel Island Fly Fishers have been volunteering their time once a week to trim back overgrowth around the water access points on Wildlife Drive at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Some of the volunteers are, from left, Steve King, Jim Harvat, Larry Priske, Tim Wilmot, Gary Vroegindewey, Bob Rennebohm, Mike Monaghan, Pete Squibb and Bob Brooks.

Once a week for a few hours each morning, the Sanibel Island Fly Fishers have been volunteering their time to trim back overgrowth on Wildlife Drive at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Since mid-January, members of the club have been meeting from 8 to 11 a.m. on Fridays when Wildlife Drive is closed to the public to clear up trees and brush around openings along the four-mile route that serve as fishing spots for the club and others, as observation points for birders and more.

Member Bob Brooks, a refuge volunteer and member of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, explained that the club became concerned after noticing the overgrowth last year.

“We noticed that some things had changed in terms of the way that the refuge was being managed,” he said.

Fly fisherman use the route’s openings water access points to fish from and release their catches.

Bob Brooks

“It started to get to a point where we couldn’t return the fish to the water in a way that the fish could be released without being harmed,” Brooks said, adding that reeling them in safely was also affected.

Fish had to be dragged through the overgrowth on catches, then thrown over it to be released.

“We were beginning to harm the fish,” he said.

And harming their catch is the last thing the club sought to do.

“We’re in one of the great fly fishing destinations, and the refuge is part of that great destination,” Brooks said.

TIFFANY REPECKI Sanibel Island Fly Fishers member Pete Squibb stands in front of one untrimmed opening.

Approaching the refuge staff about how it could help, the club and wildlife officials came up with a plan. Members were trained on where and how to trim and provided use of the refuge’s vehicles.

“They provided us with lots of different equipment,” he said. “It’s just a great synergy.”

Club member Pete Squibb, a retired wildlife biologist who managed properties like the refuge in Michigan, oversees the volunteers. Two four-person teams work each week on a rotating schedule.

“I know what it takes to do this,” he said, referring to his career and experience.

The first two weeks were spent trimming down the newer easier sprouts along the route.

TIFFANY REPECKI One opening after the teams have trimmed back the overgrowth and opened it up.

“Now we’re opening the windows up,” Squibb said of removing the old overgrowth.

There are an estimated 40 or 50 water access point along the four miles.

“It’s two miles of a wall of green in some places,” he said, noting that the visibility for viewing and taking photographs of wildlife is also affected. “We just want to be able to help open those up.”

Only four weeks in, the teams are making progress.

“We’re making really good headway,” Squibb said.

TIFFANY REPECKI In some cases, members of the Sanibel Island Fly Fishers have to get a little wet to get the job done. Volunteer Jim Harvat stands in water up to his waist as he helps clear one of the openings.

He anticipates having most of the harder areas completed in another three to five weeks.

“Plans are then to continue maintaining vegetation as needed, probably one session a month throughout the year,” Squibb said.

Brooks noted that Sanibel is a unique because of residents like the club members.

“People’s willingness and desire to participate and help,” he said.

For more information about the refuge, visit online at www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling/.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel.