SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The latest edition of the wildlife license plate available for West Virginia motorists features the eastern box turtle. It’s the first reptile to be featured on the plates which were first introduced back to the late 1990’s.
“This is actually the seventh wildlife license plate we’ve produced since 1996,” said Scott Warner, who heads the Wildlife Diversity Program for West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
The turtle was selected from a handful of species which were the brainstorm of a DMV graphic artist who produced a number of mock ups with potential critters to feature. Warner said in looking at the options, the box turtle jumped to the front of the line just because it was so easy to recognize on a license plate. Other species, like a long eared bat or a hellbender, were tough to see on the license plate from a distance.
“We changed the landscape,” Warner explained. “If you looked at the brook trout plate, you had the trout coming out of the stream, you had the rhododendron in the background, you had the stonefly it was chasing. But with this plate, it’s all about the box turtle. You can’t miss it.”
Previous plates have featured a number of West Virginia fauna. The original was the rose breasted gross beak. Those plates are no longer available, although some are still renewed each year. The black bear was another plate which was initiated and later retired. The blue bird and the brook trout are current options. The last plate created paid tribute to the state’s elk reintroduction program. However, as Warner explained, the whitetail deer remains not only the top wildlife plate, but the second most popular license plate of all offered by the Division of Motor Vehicles.
“We talked to folks in marketing who said roll them out and after a few years if they’re not selling, you take them off the market. That’s what we did with the bear plate, but nobody can touch that deer plate. Having a big buck on the back of your car in West Virginia is very popular. It supports our hunting heritage and our non-game program at the same time,” said Warner.
Each plate carries a $15 fee above the typical cost of a plate and registration fees to the DMV. The additional money is earmarked to run the Wildlife Diversity program. When first established in 1981, the diversity program was run by general revenue and income tax check offs. However, cash strapped and beleaguered from repeated cuts to funding from the state’s general revenue funds, the idea of a license plate with dedicated revenue to the program was put on the election ballot as a Constitutional amendment in 1996. The dedicated revenue from the wildlife license plate was overwhelmingly approved by West Virginia voters.
Initially the first plates generated around $400,000 in revenue. Today, the plates produce about $300000 annually for the program. The Wildlife Diversity program is a key part of the DNR’s mission and provides a wide array of services and educational tools for learning about non-game species and bio diversity in West Virginia’s eco system.