How Drivers and Taxpayers Can Support Iowa’s Conservation Efforts With Taxes and License Plates

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I am part of an elite group. A “one percent” you might say. In fact, I’m told there are just over 400 of us in Des Moines County. You can tell who we are just by driving down the road and looking at what we are driving.

The elite group I’m referring to are the handful of people, about 1% of county vehicle owners, with these natural resource license plates. Those with deer, pheasant, goldfinch, eagle or trout on them.

I noticed how rare these plaques were many years ago. We had a set of pheasant-adorned plaques on our new car that were only two issues away from the old truck that I had bought months before.

Several weeks later, some of our friends got the very next number plate in the sequence on their new car. We always wanted to find the one that had the license plate number between ours and park the four cars and their sequential license plates side by side for a photo. Preferably in a public hunting area with pheasants on the tailgates.

Today I actually have three sets of license plates (two cars and a camper van) with pheasants on them. So I have three of the roughly 400 natural resource plaques circulating in this county. Does that make me almost one percent of the one percent?

Whenever I pass someone on the road with wildlife identification plates, I can’t help but feel an instant kinship. Like me, these drivers saved the extra expense – $ 45 to be exact – to purchase license plates that tell the world how important our natural resources are to them. And for that, I am grateful.

So what do the one percent accomplish by driving such elite cars?

The $ 45 purchase and $ 25 renewal fee for these plaques supports two of the state’s major conservation programs. The first $ 35 and $ 10, respectively, go to support the state’s Resource Improvement and Protection Program, one of the most impactful programs to ever exist in Iowa.

REAP has funded trails, wildlife areas, nature centers, soil conservation, and historic preservation in every county in the state. Here at home, REAP has helped build and improve the Flint River Trail, Big Hollow, Starr’s Cave Nature Center exhibits and more.

The remaining revenue generated from these plaques is donated to the Iowa DNR Wildlife Diversity Program, which supports the research and conservation of Iowa’s non-game wildlife – these 1,000 and more species across the ‘State that do not have a hunting season.

Both the REAP and Wildlife Diversity programs are very effective in leveraging the cash. The county’s conservation grant portion of REAP typically mobilizes program dollars three to four times as much.

This means that for every $ 1 that REAP gives as a grant, it is matched with an additional $ 3 to $ 4 from other sources. The same goes for the Wildlife Diversity Program. Des Moines County received several grants from both programs. The surrounding counties have all received REAP dollars as well.

According to MNR Wildlife Diversity Program staff, across the state there are approximately 31,000 natural resource plaques on the highway. So I guess that puts me and my three plates in the 1% of the 1% of the one percent of the one percent … or something like that. I think that means I’m exponentially special. That should keep me on Santa’s beautiful list for at least two lifetimes, right?

Oh yeah, speaking of Santa Claus, now that Christmas is over let’s talk about taxes.

There is another way you can support the Iowa Wildlife Diversity Program and not feel bad about driving with these obfuscation plates. I say “Dang” because there were a lot more plaques of wild animals on the road. Like, 10,000 more. Sales of wildlife plates peaked in 2007 with approximately 41,000 plates in circulation. It’s been in decline for some time, but the popularity of these obscuration plates has certainly accelerated it.

Damn, indeed.

But back to taxes. On your state tax form there is a line, I think it’s line 57 or 58 (I’m paying someone to do my taxes so I’m just repeating what I’m getting said) where you can contribute to the “Fish and Wildlife Fund” which is actually the state’s wildlife diversity program.

The contribution will come directly from your refund, or will be added to your tax payment, depending on where you fall in the spectrum of tax liability. The contribution is then tax deductible for the following year. Plus, there’s no administration fee, so every penny of your donation goes straight to the program.

Contributions from this source generate, on average, approximately $ 140,000 per year to the program. Considering there are roughly 1.5 million tax filers in the state, very few of us contribute in this way. Another elite group, you might say.

So here is my challenge for you. This year, donate even a dollar to the Fish and Wildlife Fund when you file your income tax return. And when you renew your license plates, consider upgrading to plates featuring wild animals. Or if you really like your blackout plates, wait a year. I’m told there are new versions of wildlife plaques coming. Maybe they will come up with nocturnal species and we will get the better of both models.

Owl plates, do you like it? Raccoon, maybe? Bat? No wait. Opossum. Who wouldn’t buy awesome opossum obscuration plates?

Have someone give me the DOT Plate Design Division, I have an idea!

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