Lobsters and loons top moose and brook trout on Maine license plates.

DSCN8367There are nine Maine license plates for which car owners pay extra in order to fund particular programs. Of those, 43,337 have the conservation “loon” plate, 27,348 have the lobster plate, 24,717 have the sportsman plate, and 23,232 have the breast cancer plate. The rest, in order, are agriculture (15,682), animal welfare (15,190), black bear (10,006), support troops (5,850), and University of Maine (4,507).

Maine also offers many special designations for license plates. 33,877 car owners have chosen the veterans plate. That dwarfs all other plates in their category that ranges from fire fighters (4,090 plates) to handicapped (12,078). There is just one Medal of Honor plate, and good for that plate owner.

While the sportsman’s plate has grown in popularity over the past five years, rising from 11,409 plates to 24,717 currently on cars, the loon plate has declined significantly from 53,753 in 2010 to 43,337 today. The lobster plate has remained fairly steady, with 24,386 in 2010 and 27,348 today.

The loon plate was created in the early 1990s as a source of money for nongame and endangered and threatened wildlife. In 1998 the plate raised a high of $617,484, but by 2009 that had declined by 50% to $316,148. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued a statement not long ago that said this decline, “threatens matching federal dollars and puts in peril several biologists positions.”

After processing fees for the loon plate, $5.60 goes to DIF&W’s Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund and $8.40 supports Parks and Lands. Perhaps it would occur to you, as it did to me, that the $5,000,000 surplus in the Bureau of Parks and Lands Budget might allow us to direct all of the loon plate money to DIF&W. I will make that suggestion to legislators!

Sportsman’s Plate

I worked for nearly 8 years to get the sportsman’s license plate authorized and issued and could write a book about that process, including my disappointment that our original design, featuring a buck deer and gorgeous brook trout, was set aside in favor of a moose and a fish that is supposed to be a brook trout but looks surprisingly like a rainbow trout.

In 2001 Senator Marge Kilkelly sponsored the sportsman’s plate bill, and Representative Gary Wheeler told Deirdre Fleming, at that time an outdoor news reporter for the Bangor Daily News, “We understand IF&W is losing money and that this is not so much to raise funds as it is to protect a heritage.”

When we finally succeeded in getting the plate issued in 2008, I hoped for a low number, given all the time I had put into the issue over the years. Alas, DIF&W staff, Advisory Council members, and legislators grabbed all the low numbers. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had the authority to issue low numbered plates, so I appealed to Matt, telling him that if I wasn’t on his list of top 50 friends, we were done. And he gave me plate number 48. Perhaps he was trying to tell me something?

Not really. I asked for that number because it is the year I was born. And so far, even at this advanced age, I can still remember that number.

It has irritated me that DIF&W constantly promotes the loon plate, even in sportsmen’s publications, while I have never seen an ad for the sportsman’s plate. Maybe they have advertised the plate, but I’ve never seen it. Nevertheless, support for the plate continues to grow, and that pleases me – and I am sure the department.

The Money

I am proud to say that since it was offered, 39,857 sportsman’s plates have been sold and $1.2 million generated for DIF&W.

So, who gets that extra money we pay for the sportsman’s plate? Well, the first time you buy it, $1 goes to the Specialty License Plate Fund, $5 to the Highway Fund for administrative and production costs, and $14 to DIF&W’s Boat Launch Facilities Fund.

When you renew your plate, 50% of DIF&W’s share goes to hatcheries, 25% to landowner relations, 15% to boat launches, and 10% to endangered species. Ah yes, there’s that endangered species thing again!



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.