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Minnesotans can vote for new license plate

Here's one election that won't see any mudslinging although the winner could end up saving a mudpuppy, a mud turtle or even help Mud Goose Wildlife Management Area.

Minnesotans now can weigh in on their choice for the state's next critical habitat conservation license plate that will go on sale early next year.

The sale of critical habitat plates has raised more than $17.5 million since the now-familiar beige deer plates went on sale in 1996. Loon-emblazoned plates followed in 2002. About 30,100 deer plates and 88,800 loon plates have been sold so far. Both of those plates will remain available.

A panel of judges recently picked six finalists from more than 70 artist entries, including a lady slipper orchid submitted by Nancy Scherer of Cambridge, a black-crowned night heron by Vernon Morris of Minneapolis, a wolf by Kito Young of Inver Grove Heights, a moose silhouette by Erica Hurt of Apple Valley, a leaping fish by Sam Melquist of East Grand Forks, and two walleyes by Timothy Turenne of Richfield. The winning artist will receive $500.

The six finalists can be viewed at www.dnr.state.mn.us. People are welcome to vote and comment on their favorite design. The comments and vote tally will be considered when top Department of Natural Resources officials pick the winner later this year.

The special license plates cost $10 more than regular plates at the time of purchase, in addition to a $30 minimum annual "contribution.'

Money raised from critical habitat plates is used to match private donations to acquire and conserve lands critical for fish and wildlife habitat and to protect rare natural ecosystems. License plate proceeds have been used by the DNR to purchase 4,300 acres of land for wildlife management areas, aquatic management areas, scientific and natural areas and expand state parks.

"It's been an incredibly successful program,' Kim Hennings, DNR wildlife land acquisition coordinator, said Tuesday. "The loon plate wildly exceeded our expectations.'

The program also helps pay for habitat improvement projects that help nongame wildlife and fish, Hennings noted.

Critical Habitat License Plates are available at deputy registrar offices statewide or online at www.dps.state.mn.us/dvs/. Critical habitat and other custom plates may soon be available at auto dealerships in Minnesota under a pilot program being developed by the Department of Public Safety and Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.

John Myers writes for the Duluth News Tribune which is owned by Forum Communications Company, the parent company of this publication.

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