Many in Minnesota are familiar with the Nongame Wildlife Program, popularly called the Chickadee Checkoff on our tax forms (even though it shows a loon on the form, it's still called the Chickadee Checkoff). Many states now have the program based on how well it has worked in Minnesota. It designed to benefit species that aren't hunted like downy woodpeckers (pictured left), loons, cardinals, birds of prey, herons, you name it, as long as it can't be hunted, it benefits from the program.
Recently, there have been articles in both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press and grumblings about the removal of Carrol Henderson from the program. This surprised the heck out of me. First of all, Carrol is much beloved by the birding community in the state and why would a major change happen early in the year, when the donation time is underway? The other thing that I thought was fishy was that Carrol is not talking about it, not even saying he can't talk about, he is just not talking about it. I get a lot of great tips and photos of what's going on in the state to talk about in my blog from Carrol, so I was surprised he was so mum with me on this issue.
I sat down with Lee Pfannmuller who is head of Ecological Services at the DNR and now the Nongame Program is in her department. She said that Carrol was removed from Nongame so he could focus on education, which she feels is his forte. I won't deny that Carrol gives great programs and is popular on the lecture series in Minnesota and surrounding states. She has some exciting plans for how the money will be used to benefit birds in the state. There wasn't a clear answer besides, "Carrol is better at education" for his removal from the program so I get the sense that a lot of this is departmental stuff that many of us aren't privy to. Something that looks good on paper but illogical in action.
So, here are my answers to questions that people have been asking me on this issue:
How do I feel about Carrol's removal from the Nongame Program? Disappointed to say the least. I would hope that the DNR would have the good sense to use him as a resource for how the program will be run in the future in Ecological Services, since he has won awards based on his work and other states have modeled their Nongame Programs after what Carrol has done here.
Is moving Nongame to Ecological Services a good idea? I don't know. Only time will tell. Since this is something that all of us donate to, it is imperative that we contact (the public and the media) and ask "Where did the money go this year?" It's our money, that we donate at tax time, we need to stay on top of it and make sure our money is being spent for Nongame and not other projects that are part of Ecological Services. I will say this about Lee, her mentor is Eldon Greij, founder of Birder's World Magazine. That could bode well.
Should I just not donate to Nongame this year? It is imperative that you donate to the program. The money is still meant for wildlife, we just need to be more observant of how that money is being used by someone we are not used to.