Skip to main content

Times of the Islands Magazine

Supporting Education And Internship Opportunities At The J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge - The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society Is Committed To Conservation Efforts In Southwest Florida

Jul 29, 2022 09:15PM ● By Stephanie Hatley

Photo Courtesy of "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society's Facebook page

In 1945, President Truman signed an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge, thus protecting the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. In 1967, the wildlife refuge was renamed in honor of Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling who advocated for the conservation of the land. By October of 1982, the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society (DDWS) was established with a mission to financially support conservation efforts, wildlife protection, and education efforts for the wildlife refuge. By 1999, DDWS had raised $3.3 million, enough to build its own Visitor & Education Center. A lot has happened since 1945...

Over the last couple of decades, DDWS has financially supported the wildlife refuge in many different ways. One of those ways is through the internship program. Because of staffing cuts and federal funding cuts over the last few years, the wildlife refuge has needed the support of DDWS for living stipends for about a dozen interns each year. These interns learn how to become conservation stewards through hands-on experiences as well as learn the behind-the-scenes efforts and operations of the wildlife refuge.

Kimi Birrer, a 2022 WoW (Wildlife On Wheels mobile classroom) Intern, wrote, "Every connection I made with the children I worked with gave me a reason to keep trying. Their love and passion for our native wildlife and science encouraged and inspired me to continue in this field of conservation."

Jessica Barry, an intern with Visitor Services also relished her time with the wildlife refuge: "The highlight of my internship was the opportunity to create and lead 'guided mindfulness hikes.' This opportunity has changed the trajectory of my future as I discovered my deep passion for
mindfulness in nature as a holistic approach to wellness. The hike encouraged visitors to slow down their pace and explore the Bailey Tract with fresh eyes using their five senses. I am so grateful that the Refuge took a chance on something new and allowed me to implement this mindfulness hike, it was truly an experience I will never forget." In July, Jessica was hired as a staff member with visitor services for the entire refuge complex.

It's through philanthropic donations made by the community and the dedicated work of the DDWS that this program exists and changes lives. The interns bring a youthful energy and creativity that positively affects the wildlife refuge and guests who visit. About one million visitors come to the wildlife refuge each year, and these interns not only learn valuable skills and develop a deeper understanding of conservation, but the families and their children benefit from the teachings and activities led by these interns.

The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society works hard to keep the wildlife refuge up and running. If you'd like to support their efforts and continue to strengthen the conservation and protection of this area, consider making a donation. To support an intern through a named internship for one entire year requires a $12,500 donation. But any size gift will help DDWS live out its mission to provide funding for student education, internships, research projects, informational literature, advocacy, land acquisition, wildlife and water quality research, and facility enhancements at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Visit the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society's donation page here to make a contribution or call 239-472-1100 ext 233 for more details.