Guess who turns 75 this year? The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), founded in 1936 by Jay Norwood “D’ing” Darling celebrates its 75th year in 2011. With membership and supporters totaling 4 million, NWF is the nation’s largest non-profit conservation organization.
Darling, a Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist, first became involved in conservation efforts in Iowa during the early 1930’s. In 1934 he was appointed Chief of the Biological Survey, the precursor of today’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp act passed in 1934 and Darling designed the artwork for the first Federal Duck Stamp. Since that time, the Federal Duck Stamp program has generated over $700 million dollars for purchase of 5.2 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge land. Darling used the Duck Stamp idea to craft NWF conservation stamps, an instrumental way for the early organization to raise funds.
In 1936 under Darling’s urging, President Franklin Roosevelt invited thousands of sportsmen and conservationists representing hundreds of groups from garden clubs to hunters to the American Wildlife Conference. Darling understood that to effect change he needed to unite disparate organizations and speak with one voice. The NWF has its beginnings in this first unifying American Wildlife Conference. From its start, the NWF focused attention on conserving wildlife resources – the animals and their habitat.
Throughout its history NWF has served as spokesperson and lobbyist for conservation efforts. NWF focused its and its members’ attention on passage of key legislation such as the Dingall-Johnson Act, US Wilderness Act, Water Pollution Control Act, Endangered Species Conservation Act and dozens more. Today NWF lobbying efforts center on climate and clean energy initiatives, and NWF continues work to safeguard wildlife and habitat.
From legislative work to donating land for bald eagle habitats, the NWF implements innovative solutions. National Wildlife, NWF’s magazine, credits the organization’s efforts to ban lead shot used in waterfowl hunting for preventing death from lead poisoning for millions of birds across 27 species. Current NWF efforts center on animals and habitat impacted by the Gulf oil spill, polar bears and other species adversely impacted by climate change, and eradication of invasive species like the Asian Carp that threaten indigenous species’ survival.
In addition to conservation, NWF expends enormous effort on outreach and education. By helping children connect to nature, NWF fosters greater environmental stewardship within our youth. In 1958, NWF introduced Ranger Rick to children. Ranger Rick, the magazine, began publication in 1968 inspiring children with the Ranger Rick pledge to “explore the wonders of nature and learn the importance of every living thing.” As a child, I looked forward each month to getting my Ranger Rick, and the magazine motivated my first activist action, circulating a petition to ban baby seal hunting.
NWF expanded its outreach to children by adding two magazine formats, Animal Baby (for 2 – 4 year olds) and Your Big Backyard (for ages 4 – 7). Always innovating, the NWF website reaches even more children and their parents. In 2007, NWF sponsored the Green Hour to provide parents with ideas to get their children outside and engaged in nature. In 2009, the Green Hour effort merged into NWF’s current children’s campaign Be Out There®
And it’s not just children NWF works to connect to nature. NWF’s wildlife habitat certification program provides individuals resources and assistance in creating habitat within their own backyard. The NWF site also offers a Nature Find search engine to connect people with outdoor venues and activities.
For 75 years, NWF has tirelessly worked to protect and restore habitats, and protect our natural resources – that is something to celebrate. Happy birthday, National Wildlife Federation!
The Papers of Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. University of Iowa Special Collections and University Archives.
The Federal Duck Stamp Story. National Fish and Wildlife Service. July 2002.
Sachs, Jessica. “What We Want is Action.” National Wildlife, February/March 2011.
National Wildlife Federation website – www.nwf.org
Be Out There® – www.beoutthere.org