DES MOINES — Fewer Iowans are donating money to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Fund on their tax returns to help wildlife conservation efforts. Last year, about 5,800 people checked the box for the so-called Chickadee Check-off, which is only about four-tenths of one percent of Iowa’s taxpayers.
Stephanie Shepherd, a wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity Program, says that check-off is the program’s only source of funding.
“The Chickadee Check-off, the number of donors continues to decline for some reason, probably because the way people have done taxes has changed a lot over the years,” Shepherd says. “The Chickadee Check-off was placed on the tax form in 1982, so certainly things have changed a lot.”
She says the check-off funds are vital to the agency’s work to help preserve some of Iowa’s most vulnerable species.
“We’re the folks that are 100% focused on all those wildlife that you can’t hunt, fish or trap, so, non-game wildlife,” Shepherd says. “That includes songbirds, bald eagles, bumblebees, frogs and toads, dragonflies, all the things, the thousands of species that you can’t hunt, fish or trap.”
A few recent projects that have been supported by the check-off include investigating the nesting success of bald eagles, and determining the status of the endangered Poweshiek skipperling butterfly.
“The Chickadee Check-off, when it was created, actually created our program,” Shepherd says. “It allows us to do conservation work for all those species, everything from outreach to research to habitat management projects.”
The number of donors to the check-off has dropped by 50-percent in the past 20 years. Last year, it bought in almost $147,000, a decline of about $8,000 from the year before. Iowans can donate as little as a dollar on their state tax form.
“The tax form has changed this year. It seems like the legislature made some changes to how the tax form is set up or the Department of Revenue, so it’s in a little bit different spot,” Shepherd says. “Just make sure, if you work with a tax preparer, to remind them that you’d like to donate, and also keep an eye out if you use one of the electronic programs.”
Shepherd notes, 100-percent of donations to the check-off go directly to the program — there are no administrative fees. Also, you don’t have to donate via the tax form. You can donate directly on the DNR’s website: https://programs.iowadnr.gov/donations