DOTW green header.png

April 6, 2023

Refuge Ribbon Cutting

On Tuesday, April 4, “Ding” Darling opened the gate to Wildlife Drive for the first time since Hurricane Ian. A Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the reopening of the Drive, “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center, Refuge Nature Store, and Bailey Tract that day. More than a hundred Refuge staff and volunteers, DDWS board members, Chamber representatives, city officials, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials were on hand to cheer the happy occasion.

Current Refuge Hours:

  • Wildlife Drive - 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday
  • Visitor & Education Center and the Refuge Nature Store - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday
  • Tarpon Bay Explorers - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (last rentals at 3 p.m.).

Watch WINK-TV coverage of the opening. 

April 11: Emerging from Hurricane Ian, Part 2

The second event in a community series hosted by the SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future and the City of Sanibel takes place at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 11.


The first event focused on sharing community stories and collecting feedback to guide a citizen-led planning effort focused on building greater resiliency for the future. The second event will delve into lessons learned and where we go from here, with a specific focus on our built environment (structures) and our natural systems (conservation lands, coastlines, and residential landscapes).


Program Moderators: City Councilman John Henshaw, SCCF Coastal Resilience Manager Carrie Schuman.


Panel: Architect Joyce Owens, Benchmark General Contractors President Brad Nickel, SCCF CEO James Evans, Florida Gulf Coast University Water School Professor Michael Savares, Landscape Architect Ellin Goetz

County Denies Eden Oak Rezoning Request

The value of working with like-minded people and organizations paid off on April 5 when the Lee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously denied a rezoning request to take coastal wetlands for a housing development. DDWS President Wendy Kindig and Vice President Bill Harkey were present at the meeting.

Watch Wink News Report

Special thanks to SCCF for taking the lead in fighting this batttle. Read MORE

Artist in Residence Exhibition

With the reopening of the Refuge Visitor & Education Center on April 4, a 30-piece mini-exhibition of Artist-in-Residence Jacqui Roch’s work debuted, featuring her Refuge-inspired work. The free-admission exhibition will be on display through April during normal Visitor & Education Center hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday. 

Ranger Toni: Defender of the Gulf

Gulfshore Life magazine featured Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland this month as one of seven of Southwest Florida’s Defenders of the Gulf for her work in conservation education outreach throughout the local community. “What we’re doing now is impacting [students’] lives in a repeatedly consistent way that becomes part of what they believe in,” the article quotes Toni. See her profile .

April 22: ‘Ding’ Darling Day Conservation Carnival

The Refuge celebrates its 34th annual “Ding” Darling Day jointly with Earth Day at Lakes Park in Fort Myers Sunday, April 22. The Refuge and DDWS have planned a full day of Conservation Carnival and nature activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


More than 20 local conservation non-profits will be participating to engage visitors with information and carnival games where they can earn prizes. Gamers can earn a free mini ice cream cone, plus READ MORE


DDWS seeks sponsors for the event, which will be highly publicized throughout the Southwest Florida area. Learn more or contact April Boehnen for information. 

“Celebrity Dunk Tank” is among the carnival activities.

WoW Update: Sunshine Elementary

WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) is wowing students at Title-1 Sunshine Elementary in Lehigh Acres during its current four-week stay. From there, it lands at Lehigh Senior High April 24 to 28.


The general public can experience WoW for free on April 22 to celebrate “Ding” Darling Day and Earth Day at Lakes Park in Fort Myers.


Now more than ever, with post-hurricane staffing cuts, Refuge community outreach needs your help. Donate today to support the upkeep and staffing for WoW. That outreach effort alone reaches more than 7,000 students a year at a cost of about $25 per student. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities, so they can experience and appreciate wildlife and its habitat.

Remember, profits from all Nature Store sales go directly to the Refuge for educational programs, wildlife research, and overall conservation efforts.


CLARIFICATION: Support the Southwest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Area


Note: Last week’s Advocacy column included some misleading figures.


DDWS is supporting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in studying the possibility of establishing more conservation areas in Southwest Florida. If successful, this important work will conserve lands and waters within the watersheds that impact the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and its surrounding estuaries.


USFWS is currently seeking public comment on a new conservation area under consideration in Southwest Florida. Through April 18, we urge you to attend in-person or virtual hearings or provide your written comment by email or snail mail. This page contains information on how to weigh in on the proposed conservation area and facts about the area and process.

Read News-Press article about the impact of corridor on panther survival. 

Memorial & Honor Gifts

Donors made these gifts to DDWS in honor and memory of friends and families during February and March 2023. Thank you to everyone who supported the Refuge in this thoughtful and meaningful way. Make a memorial or honor donation here.

Refuge Programming & Events

Visit our events page at the Refuge have been curtailed. Read DOTW for news of activities still ongoing and upcoming.

  • The Nature Store pops up at the Rachel Pierce Art Gallery marketplace from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. most Fridays and other select days through April

  • During April, a mini-exhibition of Artist in Residence Jacqui Roch’s Refuge-inspired work opens in the Visitor & Education Center Auditorium.

  • Emerging from Hurricane Ian: Stronger & More Resilient, Part 2 of a community series, takes place Tuesday, April 11, at BIG ARTS.

  • Free Refuge Summer Programs run June 11 through August 5. Programs will be posted on Eventbrite and could include Beach Walks, Common Birds of the Refuge, Mindfulness, and Meditations

Photo caption: Play carnival games for learning and prizes at “Ding” Darling Day April 22.

Hurricane (and Related Environmental) Update

We consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566. Here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few NEW links: 

  • More businesses open on Sanibel and Captiva
  • Curbside mail service returns on Sanibel post-storm
  • NHC announces 2023 changes, including 7-day forecast cone
  • Stagnant water in swimming pools provide a perfect habitat for mosquito larvae. The Lee County Mosquito Control District will make service visits. Visit here to make a service request or call (239) 694-2174.
  • Hurricane Ian survivors still finding help for trauma recovery
  • Here’s why Florida’s home insurance hotline is only open 3 hours a day
  • The Psychology of Risk. An interview with author Randy Wayne White
  • Homeowners facing liens threats on their properties as insurance companies refuse to pay claims
  • Hurricane Ian name retired by World Metorological Organization
  • Paradise in Peril
  • Citizens Insurance announces that Florida residents could face "hurricane tax"
  • Boats stuck in mangroves from Hurricane Ian may be removed using helicopters
  • How to get your vehicle removed from waterways after Hurricane Ian
  • Building Noah’s Ark
  • United Property policyholders who switched to Citizens get more time to file repair contracts
  • Two big takeaways from the NHC's Hurricane Ian report
  • Hurricane Ian costliest storm in Florida history, reached Cat 5, new report states
  • Winter is the fastest-warming season for continental U.S.
  • Recent SWFL manatee deaths linked to red tide and loss of seagrass
  • Beach tilling on Captiva Island started Monday; aids turtle nesting
  • The U.S. leads the world in weather catastrophes. Here's why
  • Florida homeowners insurance segment challenges run deep
  • How I learned to talk about climate science with skeptical audiences
  • Fort Myers Beach faces reshaped, more expensive future after Hurricane Ian
  • Worry over harmful algae blooms delays new Lake Okeechobee management plan
  • Florida has most lead pipes in US, EPA survey finds
  • Fecal testing bill moves through committee
  • Red tide research not slowing down despite shrinking bloom
  • Anemic Bald Eagle rescued on Captiva
  • Snowy Plovers sighted nesting on Sanibel
  • Eden Oak Zoning Request Denied

Feel-Good Finds

If you have a photo, poem, video, or other feel-good find and you'd like the chance to be highlighted in our "Ding" on the Wing, please email it to April Boehnen .

Laila Walzer shared this sunset photo from Sanibel pre-Ian.



As part of our Nature Wellness Program for 2023, watch here for tips on how to center your mind and improve your wellbeing both outdoors and indoors.

Backyard Birding


With the Refuge open once again, birders from across the country will continue to migrate to Sanibel with their supersized camera lenses, binoculars, and bird ID guides in hopes of spotting the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill and other rare species. While birding can easily become a daylong adventure, the wellness tip today is to try 10 minutes of “backyard birding.”


Find a window in your home (or step outside if you are able), sit for 10 minutes, and simply notice any birds that fly by. Rather than trying to identify every bird, observe its movement, behavior, coloring, sound, size, and surroundings. Allow birdwatching to draw you into the moment, fully. After 10 minutes have passed with the broadened, present-focused attention, note how you feel.

These are just snapshots of some of the things taking place at your Wildlife Refuge. Please check our website to learn more. Thank you for caring about the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

"Ding" On The Wing composed by Chelle Koster Walton. Designed by Ali Reece

Darling Dose of "Ding"

Support the Refuge

Donate to support wildlife conservation now!
Visit our Website
Facebook  Instagram
LinkedIn Share This Email