Happy Anniversary to "Ding"
Sanibel refuge’s 50-year milestone, renamed in 1967
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.