It’s easy to help the birds and bees at tax time: Just look for the loon

Carrol Henderson is puzzled.

On the one hand, he’s seen ample evidence that Minnesotans love the outdoors and nature. But he also knows that when it comes to a simple step people might take this time of year to help wildlife, many don’t.

Henderson is supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Wildlife Program, which is supported primarily by donations made when people file their state income taxes. By entering an amount on line 20 of the state tax form, Minnesotans can dedicate money to a program that helps more than 800 species of nongame wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Such donations are tax-deductible and are matched 1:1 by state conservation license plate funds.

As easy as that might seem, fewer than three out of a hundred Minnesota taxpayers do it. Henderson knows that more than 3 percent of Minnesotans care about loons, eagles, trumpeter swans, bluebirds and dozens of other wildlife species.

“I know the level of public interest in wildlife is much higher than that, but maybe people don’t understand what it’s for or how it works,” he said of the tax form checkoff. “Perhaps they aren’t aware that the Nongame Wildlife Program doesn’t get any money from the general fund. Maybe they just get in a hurry and forget to mention it to their tax preparer.”

The Nongame Wildlife Program focuses on critters that aren’t hunted, from iconic animals such as eagles and loons, to species that slither and crawl, like rattlesnakes and beetles.

The program helps manage habitat, assists with recovery efforts for rare species, provides nature education, and conducts research to understand how organisms fit within functioning ecosystems. About 80 percent of its funding consists of donations matched dollar-for-dollar by Reinvest in Minnesota Critical Habitat license plates. The remainder comes from special grants dedicated to specific projects.

Throughout its 38-year history, the Nongame Wildlife Program has played an important part in the recovery of a number of species, including the bald eagle, trumpeter swan, eastern bluebird, and peregrine falcon. Taxpayer donations also fund efforts such as:

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