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Wildlife conservation focus of license plate campaign

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

State officials hope getting the word out about a continuing campaign will further enable them to protect endangered species.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is engaged in efforts to promote its wildlife, license-plate program. The DNR is offering plates featuring bald eagles and hummingbirds, as part of an annual fund-raiser to promote non-game conservation.

Agency spokesperson Kristina Summers said the program, which was begun in 1997, has been a huge success. It is currently the most lucrative fund-raiser for the DNR's non-game section of its Wildlife Services Division, having generated two-thirds of the section's revenue for 2004-07.

"More than 1.5 million wildlife tags have been sold since [the program's inception]," said Summers. "Those tags represent $24.5 million for wildlife projects."

Those projects include monitoring endangered sea turtles, documenting rare plants and acquiring wildlife habitats in the state. Summers said the license-plate fund-raiser is essential in continuing those efforts. "Our section doesn't receive state appropriations, so we rely on fund-raisers, private donations and grants," she said, adding that 34,600 acres have been acquired for wildlife in Georgia through funds generated by the program.

Section Chief Mike Harris noted the importance of the role the funds play in maintaining non-game species, which constitute 85 percent of the wildlife population in Georgia. He said many in the state are unaware of the DNR's constant need for monetary support. "Most people think our programs for non-game wildlife are funded by general revenues, but that's not true."

The primary funding for the program comes in the form of donations, and designations by residents on their income-tax forms, to support the protection of wildlife in the state.

Currently, said Harris, the state is focusing on "proactive conservation," an idea which gained momentum in 2005, with the completion of a State Wildlife Action Plan.

"We did a systematic evaluation, and came up with a plan for endangered species," he said. "The whole concept is to do research and take action early on, before [we] reach a critical point, where they would be federally required to be listed."

For more information on the wildlife license-plate program, visit www.georgiawildlife.com.