1992 - What's on Your Plate?

First came the state bird, then an elk, and finally the trout. These are the species featured on Idaho’s wildlife specialty license plates that can be seen on the front and rear fenders of thousands of vehicles in Idaho. They help fund the conservation and management of wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped — over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity.

Idaho’s first wildlife license plate, the mountain bluebird, was approved by the Legislature in 1992 and went on sale July 1, 1993. A second plate, the Rocky Mountain elk, was added in 1998, followed finally by the cutthroat trout plate in 2003. No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs.  Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho wildlife license plates.

Idaho Fish and Game has always managed nongame wildlife to some degree, but formal funding began when legislation established the state’s first income tax check-off on the 1981 tax form.  The change allowed state residents to make a voluntary contribution to “wildlife diversity” programs, but it was not enough by itself to support management of nongame species.

In 1992, the Legislature authorized the wildlife specialty vehicle license plates with a portion of the revenue earmarked for diversity programs.  The bluebird plate became available in 1993, and it was followed by the elk plate in 1998 and the cutthroat plate in 2003.  

Idaho wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped.  From songbirds, raptors, bats, squirrels, frogs, and lizards, to thousands of insects and other invertebrates, as well as Idaho’s native plants, wildlife diversity programs strive to maintain viable, self-sustaining populations of all native wildlife and plants.  Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.  

The initial purchase costs $35, and renewals cost $25.  The Idaho Transportation Department keeps 30 percent of the money from the sale and renewal of wildlife plates.  Idaho Fish and Game gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, and 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates.  Ten percent of the money from elk plates goes to the Fish and Game Wildlife Health Laboratory and the Idaho Department of Agriculture for wildlife disease research and monitoring, and ten percent from cutthroat plates goes to the Department of Parks and Recreation for construction and maintenance of non-motorized boating facilities.

The Idaho wildlife license plates continue to be the most popular among the array in the specialty license plate program.  Annual revenue to Idaho Fish and Game from the wildlife plate program peaked in 2007 at approximately $1 million.  Since then, with a downturn in the economy, plate sales have steadily declined, and revenue has stabilized in recent years at $850K.  The vehicle license plate and tax check-off revenues provide critical matching funds for federal grants.  The wildlife license plates, sponsored by the Idaho Fish & Wildlife Foundation, are available from every county assessor’s office.