An Iowa tax checkoff that sends money to the Fish and Wildlife Fund has seen some ups and downs in recent years.
DNR wildlife biologist, Stephanie Shepherd, oversees what’s called the Chickadee Checkoff. “During tax year 2020, folks were especially generous. So we did see a big drop in donations this year from 2020. But those donations in 2020, were really high,” Shepherd says.
She says the bigger concern is the number of people who check the box and make a donation. “A decade ago, we had several thousand more people who were donating, and we’re down to just about, 6,000 people donating, they’re just being more generous with their donations. So kind of keeping us at the same level, ” Shepherd says. There were 6,200 Iowa taxpayers who used the Chickadee Checkoff in 20212– a drop of 1,000 from 2020.
Shepherd says they want more people to know how the checkoff money is used in hopes of increasing donations. “It is the only program that has a 100 percent focus on all the wildlife you can’t hunt, fish or trap. So you know, game species game fish have other funding sources through hunting license, and fishing license dollars,” she says. “But non-game wildlife doesn’t really have doesn’t get a lot of money from those sources. And our major funding to support those species comes from the chickadee checkoff and the natural resources license plates.”
Shepherd says the Wildlife Diversity Fund is used for many different things. “Working to enhance habitat for non-game wildlife, finding areas to conserve for non-game wildlife and doing data surveys for species such as the Rusty Patch Bumblebee, which is a federally endangered species,” she says. Some of the other species it helps are songbirds, bald eagles, salamanders, turtles, and monarch butterflies.
Shepherd says a majority of people now are filing their taxes electronically, which she says can hinder donations. “With most tax preparers, you need to be very vocal that you’d like to donate to the Chickadee Checkoff or they will just skip right over it. Some tax preparers will even charge more if you want to donate on the contribution line. So you know, that’s a deterrent for folks,” Shepherd says. “And then also, if you’re using one of the electronic programs like TurboTax, or whatever, a lot of times it can just be easy to skip over or miss.”
She says any amount you can donate will help. “Folks can donate as little as a dollar on their state tax form….there’s four different charitable organizations on the tax form that are eligible for donations and you can throw a dollar at each of them and it makes a difference,” she says. Shepherd says the average donation is $12.
If you do miss the Chickadee Checkoff on your tax form, you can now donate directly to the Wildlife Diversity Program on the Iowa DNR website. The Chickadee Checkoff has been on Iowa tax forms since the 1980s.