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Iowa's Wildlife Diversity Program (WDP) budget is funded primarily by donations directly to the program or through donations to the Fish & Wildlife Trust Fund on state tax forms. No state general fund tax money is used. Few other Midwestern states' "nongame" programs are as poorly funded as Iowa's.
In spite of continual funding problems, the WDP has accomplished a great deal since its beginnings in 1981. Public events like Bluebird Workshops, Bald Eagle Appreciation Days, and Hawk Watches have been attended by thousands annually to learn more about the need for conservation of our bird life. Restoration of otters to our rivers, peregrine falcons to our urban skies, and trumpeter swans to our marshes are just some of the many projects that have helped increase wildlife diversity. Less-exciting, but vitally important research and survey projects that have provided valuable knowledge about the status and distribution of Iowa's breeding birds, eagles, hawks, frogs and toads, prairie butterflies and colonial nesting birds such as great blue herons will help manage and protect these fragile species. A widely acclaimed series of publications on some of Iowa's less-appreciated residents has improved public awareness and understanding of snakes, frogs, turtles, salamanders and bats and their roles in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. A new Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area and several Bird Conservation Areas have focused public attention of the need to provide large landscapes of suitable wildlife habitat.
Described below are some of the different funding sources for Iowa's Wildlife Diversity Program.
Iowa's General Assembly enacted the "Chickadee Checkoff" in 1981, as a means of providing more substantial funding to aid all wildlife in Iowa, but especially nongame species. It was this new funding source that actually cleared the way for establishing a nongame wildlife program in Iowa, today called the Wildlife Diversity Program. The checkoff has provided Iowans an opportunity to voluntarily donate a self-designated portion of their Iowa tax refund when completing their Iowa form 1040s. If tax payments are still due the state, filers may even add a donation amount to their outstanding tax bill, if the spirit moves them.
Although still generally called the Chickadee Checkoff, today's Iowa 1040 just refers to the term "Fish & Wildlife" fund on a line near the end of the tax form. Even though tax form terminology has changed, contributions made on this line still are credited to the special WDP account and are used to further conservation of nongame wildlife. Although checkoff revenues remain WDP's most important operations budget source, donations have fallen by 50% since 1979. The fund is now providing just 1/3 of what it takes to keep the program running, making it necessary to supplement the WDP with some DNR Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund revenues and other resources.
Sales of various Wildlife Diversity publications provide a very small amount of revenue to the program. The Iowa Wildlife Viewing Guide was published in 1995 in cooperation with Falcon Press and the Defenders of Wildlife. A dollar from the sale of each book is returned to help fund WDP projects. Technical publications covering Iowa's bats, lizards and turtles, snakes, and frogs and toads are available for a nominal cost, which basically just covers the cost of publication. All available publications may be purchased at DNR headquarters in Des Moines, at the Boone Wildlife Research Station, online at the Iowa Nature Store or at various watchable wildlife events around the state.
Funds from the tax checkoff, support certificates, donations and publication sales are deposited in a special nongame account dedicated wholly to nongame wildlife conservation. Direct donations seldom account for more than $5,000 annually, and the sale of nongame support certificates bring in only $1,000-$2,000 annually.
State Wildlife Grants and the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program
Since 2001, DNR's Wildlife Diversity Program has been the recipient of annual appropriations from Congress. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these grants have provided critically needed funding for WDP projects. There are sometimes slight differences in each year's funding formula and in what kinds of projects are allowed.
Late in 2001, Congress provided grant funding to states through the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program, or WCRP. Federal dollars would fund 75% of each project submitted for approval, while Iowa DNR or its partners had to provide the remaining 25%. WCRP funds could be used for a wide variety of wildlife habitat projects, as well as for wildlife education and recreation-related activities. WCRP was to be a permanent, nongame title of the Pittman-Roberston Wildlife Restoration Act, but after 2001 was left unfunded. Work is underway by conservationists nationwide and in Washington DC to seek future permanent and stabilized funding for WCRP. One of the largest lobbying efforts is Teaming With Wildlife, a coalition of organizations and businesses that has been working for over 10 years to put adequate funding for natural resources onto lawmaker's agendas. If your business or organization would like to join this effort in Iowa, you can fill out an endorsement on their website: http://www.teaming.com/action/.
Since 2002, Congress has annually appropriated funds for state nongame wildlife programs through the State Wildlife Grants, or SWG, program. Because this is only an annual appropriation, Congress must be lobbied extensively each year to assure funding is not cut. Money is awarded each state on a project-by-project basis, with a requirement of 1:1 match using state or other non-federal sources. SWG funds may be used only for projects relating to "species of greatest conservation need" identified in the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan, and not for wildlife education or recreation projects. States have two years to seek approval for projects and obligate funding from each annual appropriation. While the need for continuing pressure on Congress and finding dollar-for-dollar match money is demanding, the program has nonetheless been extremely important to temporarily replace a more permanent WCRP allocation.
SWG funds may NOT be used for the Wildlife Diversity Program's annual operations budget.
REAP Natural Resource License Plates
In 2005 the law which created Iowa's popular Natural Resource license plate, depicting a goldfinch and wild rose, was amended to increase the price somewhat and allow a portion of the revenues to go directly to the Wildlife Diversity Program. To help increase license plate sales, two additional designs were introduced, featuring a Bald Eagle and a Ring-necked Pheasant.
Like SWG funds, revenue from license plates is not intended to supplement the annual WDP operations budget, but instead is spent on special projects, especially those (like SWG) in need of state match money. This funding may be some of the most important yet for Iowa's nongame wildlife resources. Because of this income, DNR has been able to establish a new system to inventory almost every variety of wildlife in the state, then monitor their numbers so that we might know what management techniques are critical for stabilizing or restoring populations of declining species.
Interested? Check out the REAP licenses plates and find out more information on how to buy.