DDWS hits $3M goal for acquisition
The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge recently reached its goal of raising $3 million in private donations to complete the $9.5 million acquisition of the Wulfert Bayous.
At its annual Go Wild for “Ding” fundraiser in February, DDWS announced it was launching a campaign to raise $9.5 million to purchase the 68 acres of Sanibel property adjacent to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – with $3 million to come from private charitable donations.
Wulfert Bayous is the last large parcel of unprotected undeveloped land on the island.
“All across the country, land is disappearing, and we see it daily when we cross the (Sanibel) Causeway,” Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “Forging strong and collaborative partnerships with like-minded organizations in protecting land, such as these 68 acres, is so important.”
Wulfert Bayous is currently permitted by the city for the development of up to 29 large residences. DDWS has been working for years behind the scenes to partner with funding sources and private donors toward its acquisition. In November, the Lee County commissioners voted to explore the acquisition and asked county staff to pursue the possibility of tapping Conservation 20/20 funding.
Commissioners will make a decision in August on awarding the remaining $6.5 million.
“We have successfully worked with the city of Sanibel and the Lee County Conservation 20/20 program through the years in two other acquisitions,” Miller said. “It is our hope that the county and our commissioners will vote in August to support the remaining $6.5 million needed for this purchase.”
As it awaits the county’s decision, DDWS is continuing to accept donations in case the Conservation 20/20 funds do not all come through. If it does end up receiving the full $6.5 million, the additional funding will be applied to a restoration project to remove invasive vegetation from the tract and create improved habitat for wading birds, such as roseate spoonbills and reddish egrets.
“We will really celebrate when we know the property will remain ‘wild,'” Miller said.
The acreage along Wulfert Road and Sanibel-Captiva Road is home to a number of species, including eagles, bobcats, gopher tortoises and rare plants. It is also a stopover for migrating neo-tropical birds. Resident and seasonal birds alike would be seriously threatened by development, according to officials.
The conservation and planned restoration of the Wulfert Bayous property will protect a four-acre lake, 16 acres of existing mangroves, hardwood uplands, and 22 active gopher tortoise burrows. Wulfert Bayous contains 15 acres of wetlands that can be restored and enhanced to create a wading bird colony of roseate spoonbills, wood storks, white ibis, and other egrets and herons. Improvements would also include limited, passive public access for wildlife viewing.
DDWS expressed its thanks to everyone who supported the campaign, including the campaign committee made up of Chair John McCabe, Bill Valerian, Jim Sprankle, Dick Levinson, David Jeffrey, Marc Giattini, Doris Hardy, Lynnae Messina, Sierra Hoisington and Birgie Miller.
For more information or to donate, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/wulfert-bayous-preservation or contact DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller at 239-472-1100 ext. 4.