Happy An­niver­sary to "Ding"

Sani­bel refuge’s 50-year mile­stone, re­named in 1967

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

Be­fore it be­came “Ding” it was the Sani­bel Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. The J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge was re­named in 1967 to honor the man whose mis­sion was to pro­tect mi­gra­tory birds and fresh­wa­ter wet­lands in such places as Sani­bel. The po­lit­i­cal car­toon­ist died in 1962.

The “Ding” Dar­ling Refuge to­day hosts fes­ti­vals, lec­tures, films and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams. Vis­i­tors also travel a road­way and walk paths to ob­serve wildlife. The vis­i­tor count in 2015 was more than 900,000. Refuge man­ager Paul Tri­taik says Dar­ling’s legacy is also about in­spi­ra­tion, hope­fully prompt­ing vis­i­tors to re­turn home to “do their part in their own com­mu­ni­ties” in con­ser­va­tion. Dar­ling, he adds, “had the fore­sight, a leader in help­ing cre­ate our na­tional wildlife sys­tem.”

Jay Nor­wood Dar­ling―the term D’ing is short­hand―was born in 1876. He started draw­ing ed­i­to­rial car­toons around 1900 to lam­poon bully politi­cians, big busi­ness and oth­ers he felt abused their po­si­tions. His work earned Pulitzer Prizes. He was also an ex­cel­lent wa­ter­col­orist and a writer.

But Dar­ling’s other legacy is in wildlife, be­gin­ning as di­rec­tor of the fed­eral Bu­reau of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, which evolved into the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice in 1940. He also founded the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion in 1936. It was then he first vis­ited Sani­bel. Dar­ling and his wife, Penny, were struck by the nat­u­ral beauty of the is­lands, build­ing a va­ca­tion home on Cap­tiva. The stilt house was later pur­chased by the artist Robert Rauschen­berg. It re­mains on his es­tate.

As a na­tional spokesman, Dar­ling urged the preser­va­tion of the state-owned Sani­bel wet­lands, part of a cor­ri­dor used by mi­gra­tory birds on win­ter­ing routes. The refuge to­day con­sists of some 5,000 acres of wet­lands and mangroves. It is home to abun­dant bird, rep­tile, fish and other wildlife species.

Dar­ling was no shrink­ing vi­o­let in sav­ing wet­lands from hous­ing devel­op­ment, es­pe­cially in the Sun­shine State as the 1930s and ’40s un­folded. “Florida,” he wrote in 1942, “is in the midst of a land boom and there are al­ways, un­der such cir­cum­stances, hun­gry land sharks who go around try­ing to pick up any­thing and every­thing they can put in the pot to brew their stink­ing broth.”

Dar­ling is also re­mem­bered for his draw­ing that ap­peared on the first Mi­gra­tory Bird Hunt­ing and Con­ser­va­tion Stamp―the Duck Stamp―the pro­ceeds of which fund wa­ter­fowl habi­tat. He also trav­eled widely, pen­cil­ing beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated di­aries. A Ju­nior Duck Stamp pro­gram was started on Sani­bel. Some 7,000 Florida stu­dents en­tered the draw­ing con­test last year. Judg­ing fi­nals for the na­tional con­test were held at the “Ding.”

The Sani­bel Na­tional Wildlife Refuge was named in Dar­ling’s honor five years af­ter his death, with the “Ding” Dar­ling Memo­rial Com­mit­tee then in­cor­po­rat­ing into the Sani­belCap­tiva Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, which it­self cel­e­brates its 50-year an­niver­sary in 2017.

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