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Rotary Happenings: Refuge staff talks about new ‘Ding’ exhibit to open

By Staff | Oct 22, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland was the speaker at the recent meeting of the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club.

Island-wide kick off of social and non-profit fund-raising events are already taking place and there is a boodle of more to come. Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club sponsors many of these non-profit organization fund-raising efforts and Rotarians are also actively involved on boards and multi-positioned volunteers for many of them. Rotarians give back to their community in so many ways and love doing so. Two recent non-profit organizational events on the island sponsored by the Rotary include “Ding” Darling Day on Oct. 20 and the 10K Race 4 F.I.S.H on Oct. 26.

Our guest speaker on Oct. 11 was Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, with the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. She is an excellent representative of the refuge and has been part of the staff since 2002, holding different positions throughout the years including environmental education specialist from 2002-2009, Florida Junior Duck Stamp coordinator from 2002-2010, chair of “Ding” Darling Days and now supervisory refuge ranger since 2009. Westland helps educate over 20,000 school children and families annually at the refuge. Although “Ding” Darling Day was approaching fast, her talk was basically about the new “Ding” Darling exhibit to be unveiled in December in honor of the refuge’s 75th anniversary.

I think that this is the perfect time to bring to the attention of everyone visiting the refuge the importance of following the conviction toward conservation and wildlife restoration. Darling had a vision basically from his own hunting and fishing experiences, realizing the importance of saving natural environments for future generations of the country’s wildlife. “Land, water and vegetation are just that dependent on one another. Without these three primary elements in natural balance, we can have neither fish nor game, wildflowers nor trees, labor nor capital, nor sustaining habitat for humans,” Jay Norwood Darling said.

Darling was a highly respected, syndicated newspaper political cartoonist throughout the country. He used his cartoons to promote conservation and national attention of environmental concerns. Darling was recruited in by President Franklin Roosevelt to serve on the president’s Committee for Wildlife Restoration to replace the Bureau of Biological Survey. The committee assumed the task of preparing a plan to direct funds into a new wildlife program. Most important to Darling were issues of wildlife exploitation and the destruction of irreplaceable waterfowl habitat/ducks.

Under his guidance as the director of the survey, the Duck Stamp Act of 1934 was developed. In 1934, Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act – or Duck Stamp Act – and an increasingly concerned nation took firm action to stop the destruction of wetlands vital to the survival of migratory waterfowl. Under the act, all waterfowl hunters 16 years and older must annually buy and carry a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, better known today as a Federal Duck Stamp. Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar go directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. Darling himself designed the first duck stamp.

“For many years, Darling had a winter home in Florida on Captiva Island. Through the efforts of his island neighbors and the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling Foundation, a refuge was created on Sanibel Island from land donated by concerned citizens and acquired by the federal government,” according to the refuge’s website. “Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge has protected habitat for wildlife since 1945. It was renamed in Jay Norwood Darling’s honor and officially dedicated to him in 1967. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, one of Ding’s favorite bird-watching locations, was set aside in his honor.”

The new “Ding” exhibit will draw you in – no pun intended. It tells the tale of Darling’s personal passion for conservation and wildlife habitat and the history of his connection to the wildlife refuge. It will include archival and inspirational drawings and cartoons by “Ding.” Visitors will see his drawing table and the original drawing of the first duck stamp, along with his hunting gun and a hand-painted refuge sign stating, “No Shooting on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.”

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.