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‘Ding’ Darling ranger accepts state conservation educator award

By Staff | Apr 17, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, with nominator Erin Myers, left. Westland was recently recognized as the Florida chapter of The Wildlife Society’s 2018 Outstanding Educator Award.

Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, traveled to Crystal River on April 21 to accept the Florida chapter of The Wildlife Society’s 2018 Outstanding Educator Award.

Erin Myers, Partners for Fish & Wildlife biologist with the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, along with “Ding” Darling Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik, nominated Westland for the state award.

“Her work at ‘Ding’ Darling ranges from leading education programs for kids and adults to overseeing visitor services for over 930,000 visitors a year and initiating new and innovative projects (i.e. Learning Lavatories) that garner national attention,” Myers wrote.

According to The Wildlife Society, “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 expressed appreciation.

“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.”

Birgie Miller, executive director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, applauded Westland.

“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,” she said. “She richly deserves this award.”