Giving Your Tax Refund to Nature: Ohio DNR Hopes To Raise Money For Wetland Preservation

Janet Babin- While you're filling out your state taxes this year, you'll notice on line 24 of the 1040 form a box that asks you to consider donating $3-$10 or more for "endangered species and wildlife diversity." Line 25 offers the same checkoff options, to protect "nature preserves and scenic rivers." Taxpayer Vernon Harper of Cleveland Heights tries to figure where his refund money would go.

Vernon Harper- The amount of line 23 you wish to donate to endangered species and wildlife diversity; line 25, the amount you wish to donate to nature preserves and scenic rivers... I don't know what would be the difference, seems like those would be right together.

JB- DNR spokesman Andy Ware says the first line, the Wildlife Diversity Checkoff, can sometimes benefit hunters and anglers.

Andy Ware- We buy wetlands with wildlife diversity funds as part of our broad efforts. We also allow waterfowl hunting activities on some of these areas.

JB- Ware says the Nature Preserves and Scenic Rivers checkoff ONLY benefits the preservation of natural areas.

AW- All the money from the checkoff funds for natural areas and scenic rivers goes to the program. No hunting or fishing, or even hiking or picnicking is allowed on those areas.

JB- With a few exceptions. In nature preserves that protect rare botanical flowers, limited deer hunts have been held in the past. Also, Ware says natural areas with rivers running through them do permit fishing from canoes.

Last year, 140,000 taxpayers checked off one or both of the DNR boxes on their tax forms, raising nearly one million dollars. DNR Director Sam Speck says it's difficult to say exactly where all the money goes, because many programs overlap .

Sam Speck- A road that hunters may drive down is also a road that hunters may park on and a road that we use as a fire protection road and things like that in our forests.

JB- Speck adds that the checkoffs, along with the specially designated wildlife conservation or scenic rivers license plates, helped to fund the purchase of 1,000 acres of wetlands used by wildlife as well as hunters and anglers.

Marshal Moser is a biological consultant based in Ohio. He agrees with taxpayers like Vernon Harper, that most people don't realize the difference between the two tax form checkoffs, and often misunderstand what they're supporting .

Marshal Moser- There should probably be a better source of information on this that people can find out more if they want to.

JB- Mosher is an avid hunter and sportsman, but gives more of his tax refund to the nature preserves and scenic rivers checkoff that doesn't usually allow hunting, because he says that's the program that gets the short end of the budget stick.

MM- Funds were supposed to continue from the legislature. Their budget is inadequate and they are quite strapped most of the time.

JB- Last year the Ohio DNR had a budget of about $250 million. It allocated $44 million to the Division of Wildlife, and of that amount, 1%-3% was spent on Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species programs.

John Katko- I think the State of Ohio does a terrible job of protecting wetlands and natural areas.

JB- John Katko is President of the Friends of Wetlands, based in Cleveland. He doesn't care if the checkoffs are confusing, just so long as they raise money for wetlands preservation.

JK- There are lots of reasons for preserving wetlands, some people upset by hunting, others upset that some are upset about hunting!

JB- Katko says he's torn about the tax refund checkoff -- on one hand, he hopes that state taxpayers will continue to show generosity in supporting these programs, but he hopes Ohio officials won't abuse that generosity by cutting off additional funding for programs that protect wetlands and other wild areas. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN 90.3 FM.

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