The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is hoping a two-year increase in the number of people donating to the Fish and Wildlife Fund on their state tax returns continues. D.N.R. wildlife diversity coordinator, Stephanie Shepherd, says Iowans donated $132,000 in 2011 to what’s commonly referred to as the “Chickadee Checkoff.”
The upswing in donations came after a 10-year drop — something Shepherd says they haven’t quite figured out. “We are not entirely sure what determines how many people donate to the checkoff. It could be the number of people who are getting refunds — you know that fluctuates from year-to-year. And a lot of times we see the trends in donations to all the checkoffs goes up as the amount of refunds being given back goes up,” according to Shepherd.
The increase in electronic tax filing and the use of tax preparers could be another reason. “You know that process is kind of lengthy and you go through the whole federal return and then you get to the state return and the checkoff line is way down at the bottom of the state tax form and it’s not very noticeable,” Shepherd says.
“And I think it’s just really easy to overlook it and pass it over and the preparers don’t always ask for it. We really rely on people to kind of have it in their minds and really make a point of making donation.” Shepherd says a large number of animals are impacted by the program.
“These are wildlife that you can’t hunt, fish or trap, so songbirds, bald eagles, salamanders, butterflies, bats, things that are not necessarily supported by other funding sources. That great diversity of wildlife which is well over a thousand species in the state of Iowa,” Shepherd explains.
The amount of money the checkoff brings in is not large compared to other D.N.R. programs — but she says it does make a difference — and that’s shown in some of the success stories of the program. “The return of trumpeter swans to the state, peregrine falcons, ospreys, all those restoration programs have really been strongly supported by the checkoff. And people can look around and see the benefits of that all around them,” Shepherd says.
The donations to the Chickadee Checkoff are tax deductible, and Shepherd says it does not take a large donation to have an impact.
“There are over a million taxpayers in the state of Iowa, if each one just gave a dollar — which is the kind of the base amount you can donate — that would mean over a million dollars for wildlife conservation in the state of Iowa. So it makes a big difference. There’s no administrative costs associated with it, every penny donated goes toward wildlife conservation,” Shepherd says.
Over 8,000 Iowa taxpayers donated to the program in 2011. Shepherd says they hope to see a 10-percent increase in donations on this year’s tax forms.