OLYMPIA - November 6 marks the 40th anniversary of voters' decision to allow Washington drivers to personalize their license plates - and to help the state's wildlife along the way.
Over the past four decades, revenue from personalized license plate sales has grown to contribute more than $2 million annually to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) program that oversees management of all species that are not hunted, fished, or trapped. At the heart of the program's mission is the restoration and acquisition of important habitats, which also benefit game species.
"Personalized license plates provide a means for anyone who drives a vehicle to contribute to wildlife conservation in Washington," said WDFW Director Phil Anderson. "While people select plates for a variety of reasons, personalized license plates allow people interested in all aspects of wildlife - from big game hunting to bird watching - to promote their passions and contribute to conservation of species and habitats important to all wildlife in our state."
Revenue from personalized license plate sales funds an array of projects within WDFW's Wildlife Diversity Program centered on maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems, recovering threatened and endangered species, conducting field surveys of wildlife and their habitats, sponsoring research projects, and acquiring valuable habitats and conservation easements that benefit all wildlife.
"Since the program was established, funds from personalized license plates have helped to manage and conserve many of Washington's most imperiled wildlife species and their habitats," said Eric Gardner, WDFW's Wildlife Diversity Division manager. "When habitat is improved, all species that use it benefit. These funds have been instrumental in the management of bald eagles, sea otters and marbled murrelets, just to name a few."
Referendum 33, which created personalized license plates in 1973, passed with 62.6 percent of the vote thanks to its support for wildlife conservation without new taxes.
Helen Engle is one of a handful of advocates from the environmental community who helped build a broad-based collation to encourage passage of the legislation.
"It was and still is so exciting to know that we fought hard and won for wildlife, but, really, everybody wins," Engle said. "Seeing all of the state's wildlife being recognized and carefully managed by WDFW makes me very happy. So does my license plate, 'TOWHEE,' named after one of my favorite songbirds."
Wayne Marion, a retired senior regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, says he purchased personalized license plates for more than one reason.
"I bought two plates - ELKGUY and ELKGUY2 - as a statement of support for conservation of all wildlife and as a reflection of my personal and professional interest and passion for elk and elk hunting," Marion said.
Elizabeth Rodrick is a former WDFW biologist and a personalized license plate owner who was an early proponent of a better funding stream for the management of non game wildlife.
"I bought a personalized license plate and put HABITAT on it to remind me of the 20 year effort of WDFW biologists working with landowners on eagle habitat management plans to recover the population," said Rodrick. "I worry about where we would be today without funding from personalized license plate sales. That legislation made and continues to make a world of difference for all of Washington's wildlife."
For more information on personalized and wildlife themed license plates, go to: http://wdfw.wa.gov/license_plates/