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Scott Rall: Great plates for a great cause

By Scott RallDaily Globe outdoors columnist So what is in a plate? A license plate, I mean. More than you might think. Minnesota has more than five million cars registered in the state and every one of them needs some kind of license plate. I am ...

By Scott Rall
Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

So what is in a plate?

A license plate, I mean.  More than you might think. Minnesota has more than five million cars registered in the state and every one of them needs some kind of license plate.  I am most familiar with the natural resources plates, but they are by all means not the only specialty plates the state of Minnesota offers.

There are 19 military plates that cover, I believe,  every theater of war we have ever been in. There are six different collector plates for cars, trucks and motorcycles over a certain age. There is also ham radio, citizens band, collegiate, firefighter, National Guard, Ready Reserve and volunteer ambulance plates. Add to the list a Remember our Troops and a Remembering Victims of Impaired Drivers plate. You can then round this out with nine natural resources plates and you have a total of 43 different license plates available in Minnesota.

Add the category of personalized license plates, or vanity plates as I heard them called, and you get all kinds of different license plates to look at. I cannot say for absolute certainty, but most of these plates cost extra and serve to identify you as a member of a certain group.

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The natural resources plates are different. These plates cost extra and that extra money goes to a specific cause. Up until a week ago there were eight natural resources plates, and the minimum contribution above and beyond the regular cost to register your car or truck is $30.

There are currently 185,000 cars and trucks in the state that carry a natural resources plate on the back. If the cost is at least $30 extra, that raises over 5.5 million dollars annually that is used for conservation.

I bought the very first conservation plate when they became available in 1995. Up until just a few days ago the number of conservation plates was eight. Today there is nine.  These plate descriptions are in no particular order and the first description is a Call of the Wild moose plate.

Moose in Minnesota are in big trouble.  Their population is down to less that half of what they were only five years ago.  Proceeds from the moose plate benefit the DNR's moose research and habitat efforts.  

The second on the list is the pheasant plate.  The money here benefits pheasants and all other grassland wildlife through the Minnesota Prairie Plan habitat acquisition.

The loon plate is the third in line and the money here is use to protect loon habitats and other wetland ecosystems with these dollars landing in the Non-game Wildlife Fund. This fund concentrates on non-game species. Loons are among them and are one of Minnesota's' greatest iconic birds.

The black-capped chickadee was voted Minnesota’s favorite bird in a recent contest by the non-game wildlife fund. As a result it got its own plate and these funds hit the non-game wildlife fund for its benefit.

If you want a plate with a flower on it you can get the lady slipper plate. Many folks think this is Minnesota's prettiest flower. It is one of 43 native orchids in the state.

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Funds from this plate go into the Reinvest in Minnesota account to protect and preserve the rare and unique habitats this plant calls home.

The Minnesota DNR manages the RIM account and is responsible for protecting all of the biodiversity Minnesota has to offer.

Minnesota has more than 1.4 million anglers, so it would only make sense that they would have a license plate that depicts fishing.  These revenues are used in a variety of ways to enhance fishing opportunities across all the 11,400 lakes in Minnesota.

I think second only to angling licenses, deer hunters are the next most prolific license buyers in the state. Maintaining our deer herds requires quality habitats and funds from the deer plate do just that.

The very first plate I bought also had a deer on it. The originals are no longer made and when the current supply runs out they will be discontinued.

The new habitat plates are fancier than the original, but the first one will always symbolize the beginning of a voluntary program that allows for conservationists to continue to put their money where their mouths are.

 For the most part, all of the above license plate revenues either go into the Non-game Wildlife Fund or the Reinvest In Minnesota Fund.

The local Pheasants Forever chapter has been involved more than 25 times in partnering with the RIM Fund since its inception back in 1986.  I can’t say how every dollar from the RIM fund is spent.  What I can say that they often extend the value of your dollars by requiring a 50 percent match on these monies toward any project.

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There is normally a pretty substantial fund balance in the RIM account most years because it’s hard for small conservation organizations and other groups doing habitat work to find or raise their full 50 percent.

When Nobles County Pheasants Forever acquires a parcel of land for habitat and public hunting, when we partnered with the RIM Fund, we paid 50 percent of the total cost and RIM paid the other 50 percent.

The license plate fund is responsible for many many millions of dollars spent on our natural resources in Minnesota.  This is a result of Minnesota residents deciding on their own to pay more to help out.

Many conservation plates were purchased by hunters and fishermen in the past. By adding a flower, song bird and loon plate to the option the fund benefited from dollars received from non-traditional sources and from people from a much greater variety of backgrounds.  It was a smart idea to expand the base of plates available, and broadening the base has been nothing but good for the funds involved.

Last week there was an additional plate added to the list of options and there was an article in the paper a few days back that announced it.  They have added a state park plate with all of the proceeds going to help fund the management and upkeep our our beautiful state park system in Minnesota.  I have no idea how many of these plates they will sell, but all of the funds will add to the limited budgets that every state agency seems to have to deal with in this day and age.

There are no personalized habitat plates.  If you want a plate that reads a special text you will have to settle for the blue and white standard ones.

I had the troop plate on my sweetie’s Honda Pilot and I have the pheasant plate on my GMC dog truck. The $30-$50 extra I pay every year goes to a good cause and I feel like I am making a small difference in the looks of our planet earth.  

Buy a conservation plate next time and you, too, can have that feeling. There is no maximum on how much extra money you can add, so feel free to really go deep. You might just make a black capped chickadees' day.

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