Conservation pioneer Darling influenced through art

Column by Brandon Butler

Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Henry David Thoreau are well-known giants of the early American conservation movement. They were responsible for enormous advancements in citizen concern for conservation nationwide and led movements that resulted in protections and programs we all enjoy to this day. But they weren’t alone in their efforts.

Another early giant of conservation, one you may not be as familiar with, is Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. Ding was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist from Iowa who went on to leave a lasting legacy of conservation achievement. He is the founder of the National Wildlife Federation and created the first Duck Stamp, sales of which have been used to protect nearly 6-million acres of critical wetland habitat over the last 85 years.

“Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was one of the original designers of the American conservation movement. Ding crafted the Wildlife Restoration Act, the most significant piece of conservation legislation in American history. He founded the National Wildlife Federation, led the U.S. Biological Survey, reformed the National Wildlife Refuge system, created the Federal duck stamp program, and won two Pulitzer prizes as an editorial cartoonist. Ding is considered by many to be one of the most influential members of the modern conservation movement in the first half of the 20th century. His story needs to be told,” said Bruce Sassmann.

In 1936, Ding convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to convene more than 2,000 hunters, anglers and conservationists from across the country to the first North American Wildlife Conference in Washington, DC. Darling’s vision of a federation promoting conservation interests, encouraging social diversity, and demanding action from Congress lives on today. NWF is America’s largest conservation organization, with 6 million supporters, and 50 state and territorial affiliate organizations.

“Since 1936, when Ding Darling’s vision of a conservation army began to form with the founding of the National Wildlife Federation, this organization has been made up of hunters and anglers, birders and gardeners, farmers and foresters, all of whom shared a passion for wildlife and conservation,” Collin O’Mara, CEO of NWF said.

“Now more than ever, we need to speak out for fish and wildlife, clean air and water and wild places. We are making it very perfectly clear to our political leaders and candidates that if they want our support, we expect them to support America’s public lands, to be responsible stewards and to maintain the great conservation legacy built by their predecessors.”

The memory of Darling is honored today through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Sanibel, Florida. The center piece of the complex is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where birds, mammals, fish and sea creatures thrive.

Darling once wrote, “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.”

All of us who enjoy spending time outdoors, enjoying the forest, fields, fish and wildlife of our great nation, should be thankful for the vision and action of Ding Darling.

See you down the trail…




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