Sweet ride, taxpayer

I am a member of an elite group. A “one percenter” you might say. In fact, I’m told that there are only a little over four hundred of us in Des Moines County. You can tell who we are simply by driving down the road and looking at what we drive.

The elite group to which I refer is the handful of people, about one percent of the county’s vehicle owners, with those natural resource license plates. The ones with the deer, pheasant, goldfinch, eagle or trout on them. 

Those of us with these plates are certainly an elite group. Image source: Iowa DNR

I noticed how rare those plates were several years ago. We got a set of pheasant-adorned plates on our new car that were only two numbers off from the old truck I had bought months before. Several weeks later, some friends of ours got the very next plate number in the sequence on their new car. We always wanted to find whoever had the plate number between ours and park all four cars and their sequential plate numbers side by side for a picture. Preferably at a public hunting area with pheasants on the tailgates. 

Today, I actually have three sets of license plates (two cars and a camper) with pheasants on them. So I possess three out of the 400-and-something natural resource plates in circulation in this county. Does that make me an almost-one-percenter of the one-percenters? 

Whenever I pass someone on the road with wildlife plates, I can’t help but feel an instant kinship. Like me, those drivers spared 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 are we one-percenters accomplishing by driving such elite-looking rides? The $45 purchase and $25 renewal fee for those plates supports two of the state’s great conservation programs. The first $35 and $10, respectively, goes to support the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program, one of the most impactful programs that has ever existed in Iowa. REAP has funded trails, wildlife areas, nature centers, soil conservation, and historic preservation in every single county across the state. Here at home, REAP has helped build and improve the Flint River Trail, Big Hollow, Starr’s Cave Nature Center’s exhibits, and lots more. 

The remaining revenue generated from those plates goes to the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program which supports research and conservation of Iowa’s nongame species of wildlife - those 1,000+ species across the state that don’t have hunting seasons on them.

Both REAP and the Wildlife Diversity programs are really good at leveraging dollars. The county conservation grant portion of REAP generally leverages program dollars three to four times over. That means that for every $1 REAP gives in a grant, it’s matched with $3-4 more from other sources. Same is true for the Wildlife Diversity Program. Des Moines County has received multiple grants from both programs. Surrounding counties have all received REAP dollars also. 

According to staff from the DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program, across the state there are about 31,000 natural resource plates on the road. So I guess that puts me and my three plates in the one percent of the one percent of the one percent of the one percent…Or something. I think that means I’m exponentially special. That should keep me on Santa’s nice list for at least a couple lifetimes, right? 

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

There’s another way we can support Iowa’s Wildlife Diversity Program and not feel bad about driving around sporting those dang blackout plates. I say, “dang” because there used to be a lot more wildlife plates on the road. Like, 10,000 more. Wildlife plate sales peaked in 2007 with about 41,000 plates in circulation. It’s been declining for a while but the popularity of those blackout plates has certainly accelerated it. 

Dang, indeed. 

But back to taxes. On your state tax form, there’s a line, I think it’s line 57 or 58 (I pay someone to do my taxes, so I’m only repeating what I was told) where you can contribute to the “fish and wildlife fund” which is actually the state’s Wildlife Diversity Program. The contribution will come right off your refund, or be added to your tax payment, depending where you fall on the spectrum of tax liability. The contribution is then deductible off next year’s taxes. Plus, there’s no admin fees, so every penny of your donation goes directly to the program. Contributions from this source generate, on average, about $140,000 to the program annually. Considering there are about 1.5 million tax filers in the state, there are precious few of us contributing this way. Another elite group, you might say.

So here’s my challenge to you. This year, contribute something, even just a dollar, to the Fish and Wildlife Fund when you file your income tax. And when you renew your license plates, consider upgrading to ones with wildlife on them. Or if you really like your blackout plates, wait a year. I’m told there are new versions of wildlife plates coming. Maybe they’ll offer some nocturnal species and we’ll get the best of both designs. 

Owl plates, anyone? Raccoon, maybe? Bat? No, wait. Opossum. Who wouldn’t buy awesome ‘possum blackout plates? 

Someone get me the DOT plate design division, I have an idea!