Wulfert Bayous, Sanibel Island, Florida
“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, wild flowers nor trees, labor nor capital, nor sustaining habitat for humans.” - Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling
Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, a Pulitzer prize-winning political cartoonist, often focused on the theme of conservation and wildlife preservation in his work. In addition to his artistic endeavors, "Ding" headed the U.S. Biological Survey, a predecessor of the Fish and Wildlife Service, initiated the Federal Duck Stamp Program, and pioneered leadership in the field of proper game management.
Today, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Florida serves as his legacy, with the refuge's education and conservation efforts supported by PLA member, the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society (DDWS).
In August 2019, DDWS partnered with Lee County to acquire a 68-acre parcel of land in order to protect plant and wildlife habitats from development. As a part of the $9.5 million acquisition, Lee County contributed $6.5 million through their Conservation 20/20 program, and DDWS contributed $3 million raised through private donations. The refuge, for its part in the collaboration, will manage the property as part of its complex.
Read on to learn more about this partnership achievement from DDWS Board Member John McCabe and Associate Executive Director Lynnae Messina.
What does this acquisition mean for the refuge? For the community?
McCabe: For the refuge, it does two things: "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is predominantly wetlands, grass flats and mangrove forest. The property we acquired, right on the edge of the refuge, sits considerably above sea level and supports a wildlife and plant life population that has little representation on the refuge. It also provides connectivity to other conservation areas nearby so, for wildlife, it’s a vital corridor.
For the community, the draw for it is conservation. The community is quite supportive and always has been of protecting land and the wildlife that is here. There is also great significance for water quality.
What was DDWS's specific role in the Wulfert Bayous land acquisition?
McCabe: We identified the property and negotiated a purchase agreement with the owner while simultaneously working in partnership with the county commission and staff because we did not think we could raise all the money by ourselves. We reached an agreement with the county to specifically identify and protect key pieces of land. We went through their process and were ranked high enough to get support from the county, but we also went out and raised significant funds on our own.
What has been the community response to the acquisition news?
McCabe: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had people call to donate, we tell them we’ve already met our goal, and they want to still donate more. The mayor was in favor of it; it has been uniformly supported.
What does “conservation” mean to DDWS, and why is it so important?
Messina: To the society, it’s important because the refuge is “wildlife first,” and our mission is to support the refuge. With Florida being built up so much, anytime we can conserve land, we are fulfilling both our mission and the refuge's. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Our goal is to protect viable habitats, keeping them for future generations and for the wildlife.
How have DDWS's programs strengthened your relationship with USFWS?
Messina: We work hand in hand with USFWS and the refuge, specifically to support conservation education and wildlife and water-quality research. We fill in the gaps where government funding falls short - for example the funding of a conservation educator when the federal government cut that staff position from the refuge's budget. We further educate through lecture and film series and by supporting seasonal educational programs and other initiatives that couldn't exist without us.