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February 28, 2012

MADISON -- Private donations to fund state efforts to protect and restore rare wildlife have dropped in Wisconsin and elsewhere in recent years, spurring state wildlife officials to encourage more Wisconsinites to consider consider making a voluntary donation to the Endangered Resources Fund when filling out their 2011 state income tax form.

"We encourage you to "look for the loon" on your state income tax form and make a donation to the Endangered Resources Fund," says Laurie Osterndorf, who leads Wisconsin's endangered resources program. "Private donations are critical to conserve rare species and keep others from declining. Every dollar you give is matched by a state dollar up to $500,000, so even a small donation can make a big difference."

The tax check-off is found in the "donations" section on state income tax forms, which are due April 17 for individuals and can be filed online.

Private contributions to Wisconsin's Endangered Resources Fund are crucial for work to protect and restore rare plants, wildlife and state natural areas, and to the $1.2 billion annual economic impact, 17,166 jobs, and $111 million in state and local tax revenues generated annually by wildlife watching activities in Wisconsin, according to "Wildlife Watching in the U.S.: The Economic Impact on National and State Economies."

Private donations have accounted for anywhere from one-quarter to 40 percent of funding every year for endangered resources work since the fund was established about a quarter century ago, Osterndorf says. Such donations not only bring in a state match, but are critical because there is not a more stable, dedicated funding source as there is for management programs for game animals such as deer, turkey and fish. The management of game animals is funded largely through the sales of state hunting and fishing licenses and receives federal dollars in proportion to the number of licenses sold every year.

In recent years, voluntary donations for endangered resources through state income tax check-offs has dropped in Wisconsin and the majority of other states that rely on such contributions. A July 2011 study by a University of Georgia researcher found that the bulk of funding responsibilities rests on the states' shoulders, that 32 states responding to the survey used tax check-offs to secure nongame funding, and that total donations declined from 2004 to 2008.

Minnesota had the highlight levels of nongame check-off funding across all years in the study, averaging $1,159,082 per year. In the most recent year for which figures are available, Wisconsin citizens donated $310,206 in 2011 through the tax check-off, down from $410,277 in 2007.

The prospect of private donations continuing to decrease is particularly worrisome because of the matching provision, Osterndorf says. For each dollar Wisconsin citizens give through the tax check off or a direct donation, the endangered resources fund receives $1, up to a maximum of $500,000 from the state General Purpose Fund.

If 100,000 people each gave $5, or rounded up to the nearest $10, Wisconsin could raise the $500,000 in private donations needed to secure the full match of state dollars available from the general purpose fund, she says.

Private donations go directly toward funding endangered resources work and do not pay for overhead or administrative costs, Osterndorf says. "Your donation to Wisconsin's Endangered Species Fund through the check-off on your state income tax goes directly to work to conserve endangered resources. It's an important investment you can make now for future generations," she says.

Wisconsin's endangered species law became effective 40 years ago and the state has been a leader in restoring species to the skies, water and forests, in pursuing innovative partnerships and approaches to protecting listed species' habitat and in managing animals that are rare but not listed as threatened or endangered. Learn more about these successes -- and challenges ahead -- through DNR's Celebrating 40 years of protecting Wisconsin's natural heritage web feature.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurie Osterndorf (608) 267-7552
Last Revised: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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