FLORIDA - It's a 10-year birthday celebration for the so-called "bear plate" in Florida, and wildlife across the state is getting the presents. In 1999, Defenders of Wildlife in Florida were successful in getting the state to issue the Conserve Wildlife number plates. Since then, the proceeds from the plates have funded wildlife conservation programs throughout the state.
Thomas Eason of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the extra $27 people pay for the number plates is put to very good use.
"The focus has been on helping fund animals that historically have not had a lot of funding, and the plate has been very successful at doing that."
Eason, who headed the state's bear program when the plate was approved, says funds from the number plates was instrumental in establishing programs that help bears and people coexist in Florida. Special emphasis for funding is placed on projects involving the Florida black bear.
Eason says the revenue is also used to increase public awareness and understanding, especially among children, about the importance of wildlife and wildlife habitat, and to encourage participation in wildlife-viewing activities.
"I always look around as I'm driving and wave to people who have the number plates on their vehicles, because they really are important to the success of our programs."
Laurie Macdonald of Florida Defenders of Wildlife spearheaded the effort to get the number plates approved 10 years ago. She says the money raised through the number plates has done a tremendous amount of good for a variety of Florida's native wildlife, including falcons, tortoises, Florida scrub jay and the bear.
"Revenue from the number plates has paid for outreach to the public with regard to Florida black bears, helping to alleviate any conflicts between bears and people."
To date this year, more than 11,000 people have purchased the number plates.
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