For the Birds Radio Program: Chickadee Checkoff
(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)
Anyone who has struggled with the new W-4 form understands the need for simplification in our tax forms. As Thoreau said, “Simplify! Simplify!” But Governor Perpich’s proposal to simplify Minnesota’s short form by paring it down to just five lines could very well harm some of the simple joys Minnesotans take for granted.
Beginning in 1980, Minnesota tax forms have included a line called the “chickadee checkoff,” allowing people to donate part of their refund to non-game wildlife programs. The money doesn’t come out of our taxes. It’s not like the line on the federal tax form that allows us to earmark a dollar of our taxes to the campaign fund of a political party. Every penny that Minnesota’s non-game program gets from the chickadee checkoff is strictly donated from willing volunteers.
Last year, 13% of the state’s taxpayers chose to give part of their refund to this program. Most people donated only a dollar or two, but it added up to about $800,000. A lot of that money benefitted Duluth– Peregrine Falcons that have wintered in the harbor two of the last three winters came from a Re-introduction project funded in part by the non- game wildlife checkoff. And a four-year study of the Piping Plover, an endangered relative of the Killdeer which nests in the Port Terminal, was also funded by money from the checkoff. Programs to re-introduce the Trumpeter Swan, build bluebird trails, provide nest sites for loons, herons, eagles and Osprey–all these depend on money from the checkoff. And yet, in this very year that Governor Perpich has proclaimed the “Year of the Volunteer,” he wants to partly dismantle this successful volunteer program. If his plan goes into effect, eliminating the checkoff line from the short form, the DNR estimates that they’ll lose fully half of their non-game revenue–that’s $400,000.
Naturally, being a birder I take a personal interest in the checkoff. But active bird-watchers are an insignificant minority of Minnesotans. Why should anyone else care about the non-game checkoff? The answer is obvious if you’ve ever sat indoors through a January blizzard, watching a flock of chickadees zip exuberantly through the snowfall to visit a feeder. Our wildlife has been surviving in the Northland since long before Scandinavian immigrants settled here–there were chickadees flitting over glaciers before the Ojibwe came. We can learn from our fellow creatures because they are so deeply a part of our world–and of ourselves. One dreary day we may endure the dead brown grass and mud of late winter with the somber fortitude of an owl. The next day, we may shrug and laugh, resolved to make the best of a bad situation, like a Blue Jay. The most fortunate of us, the chickadees, are able to thrill at the beauty of a blizzard, see the diamond sparkle of new snow even as it weighs down the shovel. Simplify our taxes, yes–but let’s not decimate a volunteer program that’s helping assure the survival of some of our fellow Northland creatures. The only pleasant sight on the whole tax form is the tiny loon marking the checkoff–let’s keep it where it belongs.
(Recording of a Common Loon)
This is Laura Erickson, and this unabashed editorializing has been “For the Birds.”