‘Ding’ Darling ranger receives state conservation educator award
Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, has been named recipient of The Wildlife Society’s Outstanding Educator Award for the Florida chapter.
She was nominated for the award by “Ding” Darling Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik and Erin Myers, Partners for Fish and Wildlife biologist at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Westland will be presented the award by The Wildlife Society at a special ceremony on April 12 in Crystal River.
“I am so honored and surprised by this,” she said. “I love the work I do at ‘Ding’ Darling, and the pleasure I get from seeing kids of all ages discovering nature here is reward enough.”
According to the society’s website:
“The Outstanding Educator Award honors an individual who has developed and implemented educational tools relating to Florida’s native wildlife. Educational tools may include any items, techniques, or programs used for effective public outreach. Application of the tools should strengthen relationships between natural resource professionals and the citizens of Florida, partnerships necessary to accomplish the FLTWS resource management, conservation, and education mission. The intended audience of the educational tools may be any age, and award nominees may include any wildlife professional or wildlife conservation educator.”
Westland joined the refuge in 2002 as a conservation educator. She taught thousands of children and adults about the importance of protecting wildlife and habitat and about the refuge’s flora and fauna.
In her current position, Westland oversees visitor services and continues to educate at an overarching level by implementing, with the support of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, new programs and exhibits like the first-of-its-kind Discover Ding smartphone app and the Learning Lavatories exhibit that debuted in 2017.
“At a time when federal staffing cuts have meant the loss of the so-important refuge educator position, Toni has had to step up her education role by filling in on various programs and training a new conservation educator that the ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society was able to hire through donor funding,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “She richly deserves this award.”