Officials hope tax check-off continues upward trend
DES MOINES — Last year, more than 7,800 of Iowa’s 1.6 million taxpayers helped boost wildlife conservation with donations to the Fish and Wildlife Fund on their state income tax form — an increase of nearly 300 contributors over 2016.
“We are appreciative for the increase in contributors, and are hopeful that more Iowans see the benefit that their donations goes directly to habitat development and restoration programs for some of Iowa’s most vulnerable animal species,” said Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Diversity Program in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Iowans donated roughly $147,000 last spring when completing their 2016 tax forms, which translates to an average gift of $18.73 per donor. While the rise in the number of contributors is welcome, it represents only 0.4 percent of total tax payers in Iowa.
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. Prior to its establishment, the so called non-game wildlife had no dedicated funding.
At its height, Iowans donated more than $200,000 annually to the fund. While the main reasons for the decline in donations are unknown, Shepherd said tax payers need to be alert when filling out their form or working with a tax preparer.
“The chickadee check-off 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,” she said. “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.”
According to Shepherd, 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,” Shepherd said. “If every Iowa taxpayer donated just $1, it would mean $1.5 million for wildlife and natural resource conservation.”
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, restore native wildlife, provide opportunities for citizens to learn about our natural resources and much more.