Latest Minnesota license plate puts pheasants at the forefront

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2013 - 5:27 PM

Critical Habitat Program’s latest push involves a popular bird and a successful artist.

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New plate: Featuring the work of Plymouth wildlife artist Joe Hautman.

An image of a flying rooster pheasant will be featured on a new Minnesota critical habitat license plate that goes on sale next month.

Officials hope the image, by famed wildlife artist Joe Hautman of Plymouth, will entice some of the state’s 80,000 pheasant hunters to buy the plate, which costs an extra $30 a year — money that goes to the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Critical Habitat Program. Habitat bought and improved with those dollars includes grasslands, key for pheasants.

The pheasant season opened Saturday, and Gov. Mark Dayton and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr unveiled the new plate at the Governor’s Pheasant Opener banquet Friday night in Madelia, held in a huge tent.

“That’s a terrific-looking license plate,’’ Dayton said, standing in front of an enlarged image of the first new critical habitat plate since 2009. A crowd of 500 people, many of them pheasant hunters, applauded enthusiastically.

“It’s great to see a pheasant on a license plate,’’ said Matt Holland, senior field coordinator for Pheasants Forever, the national conservation group based in Minnesota. He said the group will promote sales, and he expects pheasant hunters to be big buyers.

“It’s an iconic image,’’ said C.B. Bylander, DNR outreach chief. “I think it will resonate with our pheasant hunters.’’

The new pheasant plate is an adaptation of Hautman’s 2007 Minnesota pheasant stamp. The agency paid him a one-time fee of $1,000 to use the image, Bylander said.

Officials had hoped to have the plate ready by Saturday’s pheasant opener, but it won’t be available at license outlets until around Nov. 1.

The pheasant plate is the seventh critical habitat plate now available to motorists. The others feature a loon, chickadee, showy lady slipper (the state flower), white-tailed buck, anglers in a boat and the silhouette of a pair of white-tailed deer — the original critical habitat plate.

The plates have raised $44 million for habitat conservation since the program began. The DNR has acquired or conserved more than 7,700 acres.

About 104,000 of the specialty plates are on the road today. The loon plate remains the most popular, with sales this year of about 22,500. Second in sales is the fishing scene (20,400), followed by the lady slipper (18,100), the buck (16,700), the chickadee (15,800) and the original deer plate (10,800). That was the initial plate that launched the program in 1995. It no longer is being made but is being sold at license offices until supplies run out.

“Some people keep it because it was the first one,’’ said Lori Naumann of the Department of Natural Resources nongame wildlife program.

She, too, expects the pheasant plate to be popular.

“I think they will be a good seller because the color is beautiful,” she said. “People tend to buy the plates because of the colors and how it looks on their car. It’s not necessarily about the habitat.’’

Sales of the plates ebb and flow, depending on the economy and other factors. “Auto sales have a big influence on plate sales,’’ Naumann said. When car sales are up, so, too, are plate sales.

The program began in 1995. The loon plate was added in 2004, and the lady-slipper, chickadee, anglers and buck were added in 2009. Some have suggested the DNR add more plates, but officials have decided to offer no more than one new design per year.

The critical habitat plate requires a contribution of at least $30 per year more than a standard plate. There is also a one-time fee of $10 the first year for plate transfer costs. The contributions are matched with private donations of land or cash.

Next year: Worthington

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