The ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge has reached its goal of $3 million in private donations for the acquisition of Wulfert Bayous, the largest unprotected property on Sanibel Island. The campaign to purchase the 68-acre parcel of land adjacent to the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge for $9.5 million was made public in February at the annual Go Wild for ‘Ding’ event.

It has been so gratifying to see how the island community and its supporters came together so swiftly on this project, with such pride and devotion,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller. “It was a lot of money to raise in a short period of time and so many stepped up so quickly and loyally.”

DDWS has been working hard to partner with funding sources and private donors toward the acquisition. In November 2018, Lee County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of exploring the purchase of the property and asked county staff to pursue the possibility.

We have successfully worked with the City of Sanibel and the Lee County Conservation 20/20 program through the years in two other acquisitions and it is our hope that the county and our commissioners will vote in August to support the remaining $6.5 million needed for this purchase,” said Miller. “We will really celebrate when we know the property will remain wild.”

It is currently owned by a developer with permitted plans to build 29 large homes. The conservation and planned restoration of the property will protect a four-acre lake, 16 acres of existing mangroves, hardwood uplands, and 22 active gopher tortoise burrows.

Additionally, the property contains 15 acres of wetlands that can be restored and enhanced to create a wading bird colony of roseate spoonbills, wood storks, white ibis, and other egrets and herons. Improvements would also include limited, passive public access for wildlife viewing.

Wulfert Bayous will complete a wildlife corridor connecting surrounding conservation lands while stemming development and water quality degradation via natural filtration,” said DDWS Land Acquisition Committee Chair John McCabe. “As the largest parcel of unprotected undeveloped land on Sanibel, it’s the vital piece of the puzzle that will ensure the island’s future as the protected, pristine natural treasure we all love.”

DDWS continues to raise funds for Wulfert Bayous, in case all of the remaining funds from the 20/20 program does not come to fruition. Should the $6.5 million be granted, the additional funding would be applied towards a restoration project that will remove invasive vegetation from the tract and create improved habitat for wading birds.

To learn more about the Wulfert Bayous and DDWS campaign, visit dingdarlingsociety.org.