Loon License Plates Fund Critical Programs, Purchase Yours Now Wednesday, May 12, 2004 |
AUGUSTA, Maine - Loon license plates do great things for Maine. The loon license plate was introduced in 1994, as a way to help protect Maine's endangered and threatened species, as well as Maine state parks.
When registering a car, motorists have an option of purchasing the loon license plate for $20.00, and then renewing at their option each year for $15.00. Whether you are purchasing a plate for the first time or renewing, $8.40 is returned to the Department of Conservation and $5.60 to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. IFW dedicates the money to the nongame and endangered wildlife fund.
But since peaking with over 110,000 in 1998, the loon plate now seems every bit as threatened as the endangered and threatened species it was designed to help.
The first threat came when the general issue chickadee plate was introduced. Immediately, sales of the loon plate plummeted by nearly 20%, from over 110,000 plates to under 90,000 in just two years. Since then, other plates have been introduced as well, such as the University of Maine plate and the lobster plate. These plates have cut loon license sales even further, down to 79,704 in 2002, the lowest number of loon plates since their inaugural year.
And this year, the legislature's appropriation committee tried to use loon plate funds destined for endangered species to offset budget deficits. The plan was later scuttled, but only after a public outcry.
Loon license plates work. Here are just a sampling of projects they have funded:
- IFW monitors lynx populations in northern Maine. Lynx are listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as Threatened. By documenting lynx habitat and ranges, IFW can provide the basis for multiple uses of Maine's forested lands that won't impact this threatened species.
- Wolves are listed as a federal endangered species in Maine. Although extinct in Maine since the early 1900's, occasional occurrences suggest that some animals may be dispersing into the state or that wolves are being illegally released into the wild. Funds from the loon license plate along with volunteers help IFW monitor wolf activity in Maine. The nearest wolf population is in Quebec, only 75 miles from the Maine border.
- For several years, the IFW staff has been conducting nighttime surveys for owls in late winter and early spring. The purpose has been to evaluate the status and distribution of several owl species. Data collected from these surveys indicates a statewide distribution of barred, great horned-owl and northern saw-whet owls. Even more interesting, however, are the observations of eastern screech owls in central and southern Maine.
- Vernal pools are small isolated forested wetlands that fill with water from early spring snowmelt and rains then dry up by mid to late summer. Many of Maine's amphibians use these pools as breeding habitats, and they also provide valuable wildlife habitat. IFW is working with volunteers to research wildlife use and the characteristics of vernal pools. Data collected will help protect vernal pools in the future.