Take a Ride for Wildlife: Conservation Is on the Go as Environmental License Plates Decorate American Autos

Article excerpt

Conservation is on the go as environmental license plates decorate American autos.

California pioneered the trend in 1970 with its Environmental License Plate Fund, which garnered revenue from "vanity" plates. More recently, the state introduced its popular "image" plate -- a scene from Yosemite National Park -- that has raised millions of dollars to help save the peregrine falcon, bighorn sheep and other species.

From Maine to Arizona and Florida to Utah, more than half of the states now (or soon will) offer motorists the opportunity to order environmental "cause" plates -- license plates that celebrate nature and raise money for its preservation.

Maryland's environmental plate, with an image of the great blue heron stamped on recycled aluminum, was first issued in 1990. Each plate costs $20, of which $12 goes to the Chesapeake Bay Dust, a nonprofit organization, and the rest to the state Motor Vehicle Administration for manufacturing and distribution costs. Hailed as one of the most successful such fund-raising efforts in the country, Maryland's plate has delivered $6.2 million to the trust for programs such as river and stream clean-ups, tree and marsh grass plantings and habitat restorations.

While costs and procedures governing specialty plates vary from state to state, some issue them on an ad hoc basis, responding to petitions by specific groups. In Virginia, for example, organizations with 350 pre-paid applications can petition the General Assembly for personalized plates. As a result, Virginia has the most specialty plates in the country -- 200, of which six benefit environmental groups.

In fact, Virginia's environmental plates were a response to a budget crisis at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, or VDGIF, which received $5 million less than it had requested from the state in 1991. …