Sanibel Island: “Ding” Darling raising money to stop residential development

A controversy is brewing on Sanibel Island Thursday, as J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is asking for $3 million in donations to protect a 68-acre piece of land of land on the island.

“It is the largest that’s left on Sanibel that is protectable, conservation land,” said John McCabe, chair of land conservation and acquisition at “Ding” Darling.

Wulfert Bayou is the largest unprotected piece of land that is within the wildlife refuge’s area of concern, and a developer plans to build 29 homes on it.

“Looks like half of the island is kind of developed already,” visitor Dan Lute said.

Those at “Ding” Darling are concerned about new homes being built on top of natural homes that belong to wildlife, including eagles, songbirds, bobcats, tortoises and coyotes.

“Hopefully, one day, we can add trails and get people out onto the property,” said Toni Westland, a supervisory refuge ranger at “Ding” Darling.

Unless the public raises the asking price of $3 million, development could take over the acreage that currently has no man-made property in place.

“We have a $3 million campaign for private contributions to buy this,” McCabe said.

The “Ding” Darling wildlife society is working to meet its fundraising goal by the end of the year to prevent the land from becoming residential development. The wildlife advocate’s efforts are making progress though still shy of the goal.

“As of yesterday, we were at $2 million,” McCabe said.

If successful, the donations would allow “Ding” Darling to add Wulfert Bayou to the rest of the preserve on Sanibel.

“It’s a connector between all of these different conservation lands,” McCabe said.

The total amount needed to purchase the property requires $9 million. With the current goal of $3 million, the wildlife refuge hopes to stop all new development on these lands.

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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