As a small boy Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling once shot a wood duck in nesting season. He was punished by his Uncle John. Uncle John wanted Jay to learn that shooting ducks during the nesting season meant fewer ducks the next year. Hunting ducks in the proper season and shooting only as many as were needed for food was a better practice. This was Ding’s first lesson in conservation. And conserving ducks became a hallmark achievement of his life’s work.
Jay was born in Norwood, Michigan in 1876, but spent most of his early years in Sioux City, Iowa. Roaming the prairie, Jay grew to love nature and appreciate wildlife. As Jay later said, “Those were the days when the golden plover came in great flocks and moved across South Dakota. From early spring until the prairie chicken sought cover in the fall along the thickets bordering the creeks and marshes, my mind has been filled with pictures which have never been erased.”
Later, Jay studied pre-medicine at Beloit College in Wisconsin. When he was responsible for editing the school yearbook, he decided to make it more interesting by adding humorous sketches of campus events and professors. To keep his identity secret, he used a contraction of his last name D’ing. The name stuck. So did his newfound career as a cartoonist.
The Beginning of a Career
In 1906 Ding was offered a position with the Des Moines Register and Leader newspaper. Ding believed proper steps were not being taken to protect land and wildlife. He used his job as a cartoonist to draw attention to the strong need for conservation. His cartoons drew national attention, and he became famous.
Darling did not stop with drawing cartoons. He persuaded Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) and the Iowa Fish and Game Commission to join a research program for the conservation of wildlife. He even pledged some of his own money for the program. This team developed a 25-year conservation plan, one of the first long-range conservation plans in the nation.
Recognition from a President
After seeing Ding's work in conservation, President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to head the Biological Survey, the agency that would become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ding began the work in his usual energetic way. To make sure ducks would always be plentiful, Ding encouraged strict enforcement of duck hunting laws. Ding also knew more money was needed to develop programs to help wildlife survive and grow in numbers. He managed to secure $17 million from the federal government for "his ducks."
Ding raised funds for conservation while he was chief through the Duck Stamp Act in 1934. The act, passed by Congress, required the sale of a federal stamp to every hunter of migratory waterfowl. Ding drew the first stamp in the series. The money from the sale of the stamps was to be used to manage wildlife refuges and to enforce hunting rules. Duck stamps are still created and sold every year.
A Lasting Contribution
Lake Darling State Park opened in Washington County Iowa, in 1950 and was named in honor of Ding. It was the state's largest human-made lake at the time. There is another Lake Darling in Florida.
Although Ding encouraged conservation practices through his cartoons in the newspapers, he felt the public needed to learn more about conservation so they could help too. Ding helped form the National Wildlife Federation. This organization brought together many little groups that were already educating people about conservation. Ding served as president of the group for the first three years.
After Ding retired as the president of the federation, he was made its honorary president. He wrote articles for the federation and sometimes even became angry when he felt the federation was working for the wrong things. In 1961 his friend, Walt Disney, agreed to serve as a co-chair of federation’s National Wildlife Week. Just one year later Ding died.
Ding combined his talents as a cartoonist with his love of wildlife to bring attention to the need for planned conservation programs. He believed everyone could be a conservationist in their own way. Ding loved nature, and he wanted to preserve it so everyone would have a chance to enjoy it as much as he did. His work lives on today.
- Sharon Kaufman, Ed. "Important Iowa Conservationists" Iowa Natural Resource Heritage Series. (1995) Iowa Association of Naturalists.
- Pam Geary Beck, “Ding Darling,” The Goldfinch 5, no. 3 (February 1984): 6-7.