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Last year, roughly 7,500 out of 1.5 million Iowa taxpayers helped boost wildlife conservation with donations to the Fish and Wildlife Fund on their state tax form. This marks the first year in the last five where contributions and the number of contributors to the Fish and Wildlife fund have gone down. Donations to all the state tax form check-offs were down on 2014 returns.
“It’s disheartening after a five year positive trend to see donations drop,” said Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife diversity biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Those donations go directly to research and habitat development for some of Iowa’s most vulnerable animal species, so the funds are very important for natural resources.”
According to Shepherd, Iowans donated roughly $132,000 last spring when completing their 2014 tax forms. This is a 3 percent decline from 2013 returns but still represents a nearly 19 percent increase since the low point of the fund in 2009.
The Fish and Wildlife Fund, known popularly as the “Chickadee Check-off,” is a mechanism the Iowa Legislature created in the 1980s for Iowa citizens to donate to wildlife conservation on the Iowa state tax form. Before this time, so called non-game wildlife had no dedicated funding. At its height, Iowans donated more than $200,000 annually to the fund. According to Shepherd, main reasons for the decline are unknown but tax payers do need to be alert when filling out their form or working with a tax preparer.
“It is an inconspicuous line that is easy to pass over or forget, and many tax preparers may not remember to ask whether a client wants to donate,” said Shepherd. “It may be up to the taxpayer to remind their preparer, or make a point of looking for it whether they are doing their form on paper or electronically.”
Donating on the tax form is easy: simply write the amount to donate next to the Fish and Wildlife Check-Off, line 57 on Form 1040, and the sum is either automatically deducted from the refund or added to the amount owed. As with all charitable contributions, the amount is deductible from next year’s taxes.
“Currently only about half a percent of Iowans donate,” said Shepherd. “If every Iowa taxpayer donated just $1, it would mean $1.5 million for wildlife and natural resource conservation.” There is room to grow.
Proceeds from the check-off are one of the few means of support for the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity program, responsible for protecting more than 1,000 fish and wildlife species in the state. Money from the Check-off helps improve wildlife habit, fund research studies, support the reintroduction of threatened or endangered species, and much more.