This year, Californians can donate to sea otter conservation just by checking a box on their tax returns. The tax form “checkoff” for the Sea Otter Fund was established last year, but was technically unable to raise enough funds to meet the minimum set by the state in order to remain on the form. However, officials are giving the fund another chance this year to prove its popularity and viability, but it must raise $258,563 — a $17,500 increase over last year’s earnings — in order for the checkoff to remain on 2011 tax forms.
The fund supports sea otter research and conservation throughout California. Each year, half the money raised by the fund goes to the California Department of Fish and Game, while the other half goes to the California Coastal Conservancy.
Fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries hunted otters to near extinction. Experts estimate that the California otter population, known as the southern sea otter, was down to less than 50 individuals at the beginning of the 20th century. Sea otters have been on the Endangered Species List since 1977, and had been steadily recovering until 1995, when the population began to decline for unknown reasons. Currently, there are approximately 2,800 otters in the coastal waters of California between Half Moon Bay and Santa Barbara. A much larger population, although of a different species, exists in Alaska.
The checkoff gives taxpayers the opportunity to donate to sea otter conservation and research simply by checking a box on their tax forms. If not enough taxpayers donate, however, the fund will not be included on next year’s tax forms. Said Jim Curland, Defenders of Wildlife’s sea otter expert, “This fund is too important to sea otter conservation to let go. Even the donation of a single dollar will help give these magnificent animals the shot at life they deserve. Past contributions show that Californians love their sea otters. We hope they can really rally together this year.” To learn more about otters and the California tax form checkoff, visit defenders.org.