Michigan's Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund marks 30 years of support

Trumpeter swan

Dec. 26, 2013

This is the time of year when charities and other nonprofit organizations remind citizens that they can lower their tax bills by donating to these organizations. The Department of Natural Resources can say the same: contributions to Michigan's Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund are tax-deductible and the fund is what 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.)

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Nongame Fish and Wildlife 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;
  • To maintain healthy populations of animals and plants; and
  • To promote -- through education and first-hand opportunities to experience wildlife -- appreciation for and awareness of Michigan's diverse wildlife.

Piping plover are among the species managed with support from the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund.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, of course, the purchase of "Conserve Wildlife Habitat" license plates (Look for the Loon!).

Since its beginning, the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund has raised some $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," explained Dan Kennedy, endangered species coordinator the DNR Wildlife Division.

Kirtland's warblers' recovery was made possible in part by the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund.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 who is charged with implementing the division's action plan. "Every dollar in the nongame fund brings in about three dollars in federal grants."

So how is the money spent? Well, the Kirtland's warbler program is an excellent example. 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.

DNR management activities, such as banding this osprey, are made possible by the nongame fund.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.

The job is far from complete. Habitat work for Kirtland's warblers is ongoing -- and likely always will be. 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.

Michigan's 2013-2014 Living Resources patch celebrates the passenger pigeon."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 the www.michigan.gov/wildlife.