J. N. “Ding” Darling was a cartoonist turned conservationist who helped create a “new deal” for American wildlife. A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Des Moines Register, Darling often took on conservation topics of the day through his work.
In the early 1930s, Darling became active in the State of Iowa Fish and Game Commission and put up $9,000 of his own money to help fund the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Iowa State College. In 1934, he was appointed Chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, where in a mere twenty months, he helped transform the agency that eventually became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1934, Darling drew the first Federal Duck Stamp and began the nation’s primary funding program for waterfowl management. Darling, along with Chief of Refuges J. Clark Salyer, greatly expanded the agency’s National Wildlife Refuges to help overcome the dislocations caused by the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. As part of the expansion of refuges, Darling designed the “Blue Goose” symbol, which continues to define our refuge boundaries.
In 1936, Darling convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to invite over two thousand hunters, anglers, and conservationists from across the country to the first North American Wildlife Conference in Washington, D.C. In the meeting’s aftermath, participants founded federations in each of their states that eventually became the National Wildlife Federation, with Darling as its first president.
Darling continued to be active in a variety of conservation movements over the next two decades. One of his passions was protecting the habitat and wildlife of Sanibel and Captiva Islands on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where he spent winters. In 1965, three years after his death, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge was established on Sanibel Island.
The Bureau of Biological Survey is the custodian of all of the wild life species that exist. Noah started it. I think he must have been the first member of the Biological Survey! He built the ark to save a pair of all wild life. The only difference between Noah and my personal experience is that he started out in a flood and I started out in a drought. —“Ding” Darling, “Conserving Our Wild Life,” 1935