Voluntary tax check-off program provides funds for critical sea otter conservation projects
Sea otters in California received some great news in September 2011 as Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation re-establishing the California Sea Otter Fund, the main source of funding for sea otter research and conservation efforts in the Golden State. The program, which receives its funding through a voluntary check-off box on California state income tax forms, will be extended for five more years.
Over the last year, Defenders has been working tirelessly to re-establish the tax check-off program with press releases, guest columns in California newspapers, participation at public hearings, and TV and radio interviews. We also worked closely with Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel), who wrote the bill and championed the legislation through the California Assembly.
This great success is due in large part to Defenders supporters, who sent in tens of thousands of letters to the Assembly, Senate and governor urging them to support this critical legislation.
“The tax check-off program has been wildly successful since it was introduced on the California state tax form, raising nearly $1.5 million dollars over the last five years,” says Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The tax check-off is a completely voluntary program driven solely by taxpayer contributions. Even with a tough economy, Californians have dug deep, allowing the Sea Otter Fund to meet its target. This goes to show how much Californians want sea otters to recover along their shores.”
Disease, Habitat Degradation, and Fishing Nets Threaten Sea Otter Survival
Since they were nearly hunted to the brink of extinction by fur traders, sea otters have struggled to make a comeback. With around 2,800 sea otters living along the state’s coastline today—just 20 percent of the historic population—sea otter numbers continue to dwindle. The U.S. Geological Survey’s 2010 spring sea otter census showed a decline in the three-year average of the population for the second straight year.
While some of the reasons for the decline are known, researchers are trying to better understand the relationships between sea otters and their habitat. The California Sea Otter Fund currently supports a long-term study to determine the impacts that toxic chemicals and disease-carrying pollution are having on sea otters living along the developed areas of the California coast. These answers will be extremely important for deciding how best to protect both sea otters and the coastal ocean habitats they call home.
What’s Next for California Sea Otters?
The legislation just passed reauthorizes the fund for up to five more years, but the program must prove its popularity each year by hitting a target amount set by the California Franchise Tax Board for it to return the following year. Defenders continues to actively promote the Sea Otter Fund, publicizing the tax donation box each year with the help of renowned ocean advocate, Philippe Cousteau
Background: California Sea Otter Fund 
Blog: Sea Otter Archive