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The Nongame Funding Dilemma

Hunters and anglers fund the majority of fish and wildlife management and conservation activities conducted by FWP through the purchase of hunting licenses and federal matching funds from excise taxes on guns, ammunition, and angling equipment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides limited funds to help recover wildlife species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Many FWP management activities that are funded through hunting and fishing licenses provide enormous benefits to native nongame species as well as game species through habitat protection and enhancement. Some of these include wildlife management areas, conservation easements, and wetland restoration. However, FWP has limited funding dedicated for research and monitoring efforts for Montana's nongame wildlife species.

The first nongame biologist hired by FWP in 1974 had to cover all nongame species in the entire state of Montana with a very limited budget. This started to change in 1983, when the legislature passed a new law that allowed Montanans to donate a part ($2, $5, or $10) of their tax refund to nongame research, monitoring, and education efforts through a checkoff on their state income tax forms. Donations were further facilitated in 1985, with an amendment that added a blank space to the check-off to allow donations for any dollar amount. In 1987, the Nongame Wildlife Funding bill was passed which permanently reauthorized the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff, unless repealed.

In the 20+ years since its inception, the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff has brought in over $496,000 to benefit the native species of Montana. Annual contributions have ranged from $16,500 to $34,000, and contributions during the last 5 years have hovered around the long-term average of $24,000 per year. Montana has a higher donation rate than many other states in terms of both the percentage of people who contribute and the amount contributed per person. However, Montana's relatively small population limits the total amount of funding that can be generated by the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff.

FWP stretches these precious contributions by working together with other entities on most nongame species projects. Nongame Wildlife Checkoff funds are usually matched several times over by a combination of federal funds and grants, in-kind contributions and matching funds from private nonprofit organizations, universities and private businesses, and the service of numerous volunteers. Checkoff contributions provide an important source of the nonfederal match required by the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) program and other federal grants. Many of the nongame projects we fund involve multiple partners, including private businesses, nonprofit organizations, other state and federal agencies, and volunteers. Without Nongame Wildlife Checkoff contributions, most of these partnerships would not be possible.

The Nongame Wildlife Checkoff will continue to provide a vital source of funding for nongame monitoring and research in the future. The Nongame Wildlife Checkoff also provides an important source of funding for popular watchable wildlife products such as posters, books, bird checklists, and brochures.