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Somewhere today in Indiana, a bald eagle soars in a clear blue sky.
The eagle is there because enough Hoosiers cared, just as they cared about river otters, peregrine falcons and other pieces of our natural world.
More than a century ago, hunters and anglers set an example by willingly contributing financial resources for the conservation and scientific management of game species they wanted to pursue—deer, wild turkeys, smallmouth bass, walleye and the like. They continue to support these programs through the annual purchase of licenses that grant them the privilege to take a few, here and there.
This uniquely North American model of wildlife management is the envy of the world, but along with its success came the eventual realization that something needed to be done to help hundreds of nongame species. Some are as common as a blue jay. Others, such as the freckled madtom, hellbender or meadow jumping mouse, are likely unknown outside of scientific circles.
More than 90 percent of the mammals, birds, fish, mussels, reptiles and amphibians in Indiana are nongame species. Every species, right down to the least weasel and the least bittern, plays a role in our ecosystem. Giving them attention is as important to the DNR as our research and management of ruffed grouse, steelhead trout, and Canada geese.
What we now call the Wildlife Diversity Section of the Division of Fish and Wildlife was established in 1981. A year later, the state legislature established the Nongame Fund to financially support this program’s mission to identify, manage, conserve and protect nongame and endangered species.
Contributions are voluntary, either by direct donation or through a checkoff box on the state income tax form.
Over the years, Hoosiers like you generously gave all or part of their state tax refund to the Nongame Fund, with annual average total donations topping $400,000. The DNR has used those dollars to leverage matching federal funds that further enhance nongame programs.
Unfortunately, tax checkoff donations have declined in recent years with much work left to be done.
So, as we approach April and begin preparing our annual tax returns, please look for the bald eagle symbol on the income tax form and consider helping the bald eagles gracing our skies, the river otters splashing in our streams and rivers, and the hundreds of species—some rare or endangered—that are the fabric of our Indiana ecosystem.
Robert E. Carter, Jr.