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June 23, 2008
Conservation License Plates Support Texas Wildlife, Parks, Fisheries
Motorists Encouraged to "Show What Drives You!"
AUSTIN, Texas — What started as a wild idea in 1999 has become an important way to fund wildlife and fisheries conservation and support state parks in Texas, as evidenced by tens of thousands of motorists who have raised more than $4 million by humming down Lone Star roadways sporting conservation license plates.
An expanded Web site at www.conservationplate.org not only makes it easy to order the plates, but it includes a big new section called Projects Funded: Where The Money Goes that details how the money from each plate is used.
Few things seem to capture the essence of spring in Texas like bluebonnets in bloom, and the bluebonnet license plate supports state parks where the blossoms bloom in abundance. Since Texas Parks and Wildlife Department first offered the Bluebonnet License Plate in April 2001, it has grossed more than $800,000 to benefit state parks.
The Whitetail Deer License Plate, brought out in March 2002, has grossed more than $450,000 to benefit big game management and hunting programs.
The Largemouth Bass License Plate, also begun in March 2002, has grossed more than $295,000 to benefit largemouth bass management and production.
The Ducks Unlimited Plate benefits wetlands habitat and diverse waterfowl and has grossed more than $240,000 since its inception.
But the powerhouse plate in TPWD’s stable, the little animal with the big following, is the Texas Horned Lizard License Plate. Although admittedly not nearly as fleet of foot as the deer, the lizard had a head start, as it was introduced in October 1999. Something about the official state reptile is clearly endearing to Texans, since this plate has grossed a whopping $2 million-plus to benefit Wildlife Diversity programs and is the third-best selling specialty license plate in the state.
In fact, the Texas Horned Lizard License Plate is becoming a mainstay for a historically less-funded aspect of wildlife conservation: nongame species. For many decades, game animal conservation has been comparatively well-funded in North America through hunting and fishing license sales and a federal excise tax on outdoor equipment. In 1938, Congress created the Pittman-Robertson/Wildlife Restoration federal aid program. In 1950, lawmakers followed up with the Dingell-Johnson/Sport Fish Restoration program. Since then, these grants have provided $11.4 billion for state-based wildlife conservation. This successful model has restored deer, turkey, game fish and other game species, many of which have come back from severe depletion to record abundance.
In the 21st century, Congress created the State Wildlife Grants program, earmarking funds to conserve nongame animals not typically hunted or fished. Since 2001, the program has provided more than $439 million to states, including $22 million for Texas. This has the potential to do for nongame species what Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration federal aid has done for game animals.
This decade, TPWD worked with universities, conservationists and many others to create a new blueprint to "Keep Common Species Common," the Texas Wildlife Action Plan. This is important for people and wildlife in two ways. First, it provides a practical way to proactively help hundreds of nongame wildlife species before it becomes necessary to list them as threatened or endangered. Second, the plan was required for Texas to continue to receive close to $3 million per year in federal State Wildlife Grants, money that has become vital for wildlife conservation programs in the state.
Enter the horned lizard license plate. This spring TPWD awarded a new suite of grants funded with lizard plate revenue, including many projects that address priorities in the Texas Wildlife Action Plan. These efforts and the partners providing matching dollars are described in detail on the conservation license plate Web page.
They include Invaders of Texas, a citizen scientist program to detect and report invasive species led by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Coastal Prairie Conservation Initiative led by the Nature Conservancy of Texas to build local prescribed fire capacity, monitor and survey rare plants and help recover the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken; Captive Breeding Facility for Attwater’s Prairie Chicken led by the Houston Zoo; Blackland Prairie Habitat Conservation to develop tallgrass prairie conservation easements led by the Native Prairies Association of Texas; Blackland Prairie Habitat Restoration Project to assist private landowners with native grassland restoration led by the Trinity Basin Conservation Foundation; and a study of Conservation Genetics of Texas Horned Lizards led by Texas Christian University.
Another grant also helped fund the recently released book Rare Plants of Texas: a Field Guide, available through Texas A&M University Press. More information about Wildlife Diversity Conservation Grants funded by the horned lizard license plate is online, including grant application forms and deadlines.
To leverage more efforts like these in support of the Texas Wildlife Action Plan, TPWD and its partners plan to submit horned lizard plate funds combined with any partner matches for reimbursement under federal State Wildlife Grants, which require recipients to put up 50 percent of project costs. Supporters include the Texas coalition of Teaming With Wildlife, a national grass-roots group of more than 5,700 organizations supporting increased public funding for wildlife conservation and related education and recreation. The Texas coalition has set a goal to double sales of horned lizard plates.
Each conservation license plate costs just $30, and $22 goes directly to help fund conservation efforts in Texas. Starting this month, all four of TPWD’s conservation license plates are also available for motorcycles and trailers.
The plate cost is in addition to the vehicle registration fee. Motorists can order a plate anytime; it’s not necessary to wait for a renewal notice. Plates can be purchased online or at any county tax office in Texas, and should be ready about two weeks after the order is placed.
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