MARQUETTE - At the time of year when charities and other non-profit organizations are reminding the public they can lower their tax bills by donating to those entities, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is putting in a plug for contributions to Michigan's Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Contributions to the fund are tax-deductible. The fund provides state officials with the money to manage the 80 percent of wildlife species in this state that are not hunted or trapped. Game species are managed with revenue from license sales.
DNR officials said the fund has changed in several ways since its inception in 1983, though the three main goals remain the same: To restore populations of endangered species; maintain healthy populations of animals and plants; and promote - through education and first-hand opportunities to experience wildlife - appreciation for and awareness of Michigan's diverse wildlife.
The nongame patch. (DNR photo)
Trumpeter swan populations have been re-established in Michigan in part because of the state’s nongame fund. (DNR photo)
When it was first created, the nongame fund raised money through a check-off on the state income tax return. The check-off was discontinued in the 1990s when the fund reached $6 million. The fund continues to generate revenue from interest on the balance, by voluntary contributions and the purchase of "Conserve Wildlife Habitat" license plates (Look for the Loon!).
Since its beginning, the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund has raised about $9.5 million to support conservation.
"Without the nongame fund we wouldn't have been able to reach our goals for bringing back some of Michigan's rarest wildlife, such as the Kirtland's warbler, osprey and peregrine falcon," said Dan Kennedy, endangered species coordinator the DNR's Wildlife Division.
Last year, the nongame fund generated about $380,000, which was used to match federal grants.
"This allows us to maximize our on-the-ground conservation work," said Amy Derosier, the DNR Wildlife Division staffer charged with implementing the division's action plan. "Every dollar in the nongame fund brings in about three dollars in federal grants."
DNR officials said the Kirtland's warbler program is an excellent example of how the money from the fund is spent. Kirtland's warblers nest only in Michigan's young jack pine forests; the nongame fund has helped replant jack pines, "establishing much-needed habitat," Kennedy said.
Kirtland's warblers were listed as an endangered species in 1973; their population has twice fallen below 200 pairs. A recovery goal was set at 1,000 pairs. Today there are more than 2,000 pairs and the recovery program is considered a smashing success, the DNR said.
Similar success occurred with other species of birds, most notably raptors such as bald eagles and ospreys.
When the nongame fund was created in 1983, state wildlife officials called for establishing a self-sustaining population of bald eagles with at least 200 pairs. In 2012, there were more than 750 pairs. Ospreys, once non-existent in southern Michigan, have become almost commonplace thanks to a program that built nesting platforms and relocated birds.
The nongame fund has been used in the past to provide grants to schools, communities and other organizations to promote education and habitat management and wildlife surveys. The fund continues to support the annual toad and frog survey, which has been conducted since 1996 and combines the efforts of scientists and citizen/conservationists.
DNR officials said the job is far from complete. Habitat work for Kirtland's warblers is ongoing - and likely always will be, according to the DNR. Work continues on piping plovers, on Karner blue butterflies, on Mitchell's satyr butterflies and more.
Meanwhile, Kennedy can rattle off a handful of species - massasauga rattlesnakes and copperbelly water snakes, among them - that need some attention if they're going to flourish.
"There are rare plants, too," Kennedy said. "This is the only funding source we can use on plants such as the prairie fringed orchid and the dwarf lake iris, which is the state flower. We'd love to have a program to help recover these rare plants."
The DNR suggests donors to the fund can use the occasion to honor a friend or loved one. Honorees will be notified of the donor's gift with a certificate and a Living Resources patch, which features one of Michigan nongame species.
To make a donation in someone's honor, send a check or money order - along with the name and address of the honoree - to: State of Michigan, Nongame Wildlife Fund, Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 30451, Lansing, MI 48909. You can also visit the DNR website www.michigan.gov/wildlife and click on the donate button near the bottom of the page.
For more information on nongame species management, visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife.