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Each specialty plate costs $25 above the normal registration fee, with $15 going directly to conservation programs. The most popular plate features the RED CARDINAL, Ohio's state bird,. Proceeds from sales of the plate (as well as contributions to the state income tax check-off program) benefit ODNR's Wildlife Diversity Fund. Last year, drivers purchased 57,522 sets of cardinal plates. Since the beginning of the program in 1997, nearly $3 million has gone to reverse population declines of wildlife species and restore the fragile habitats where these species thrive. KARNER BLUE BUTTERFLIES are again flying in the Oak Openings region of northwest Ohio and TRUMPETER SWANS have returned to the Lake Erie marshes- all as a result of contributions to the Wildlife Diversity Fund. In addition, PEREGRINE FALCONS are living high above Ohio's major cities and OSPREYS and BALD EAGLES are soaring above the state's waterways. Geauga County has seen protection of its native BROOK TROUT and SNOWSHOE HARES introduced to its fields. And, Ohio nature lovers will soon have access to the most comprehensive study of the state's freshwater mussels through publication of Freshwater Mussels of Ohio. Growth of the bald eagle restoration project is easily the best example of how successful the Wildlife Diversity Fund has been. In 1979, Ohio recorded only four bald eagle nests in the state. This year, a record 67 eagle pairs are raising 93 eaglets in nests across the state. A special license plate, created in 1999, builds on the success of eagle restoration. Last year, 10,711 Ohio drivers purchased BALD EAGLE PLATES, donating $160,665 towards eagle management in the state. During 2000, 10,517 drivers purchased Ohio SCENIC RIVER LICENSE PLATES. The plate depicts a great egret in flight over an Ohio waterway. Sales of the plate generated $157,755 last year for ODNR's State Scenic Rivers Program. Funds (along with income tax checkoff contributions to scenic rivers) are used to support projects that strengthen the preservation and protection of Ohio's remaining high-quality streams. Land acquisition is a priority along state scenic waterways. Stream banks or forested corridors are allowed to return to their natural states, further protecting the waterway, as well as endangered or threatened wildlife and plant habitats. Funds also support ODNR's statewide Stream Quality Monitoring Project, which provides education opportunities and important water quality data for Ohio's system of 11 state scenic rivers. The LAKE ERIE LICENSE PLATES, a program of the Lake Erie Commission, is the oldest of Ohio's conservation plates and second only to the cardinal plate in popularity among drivers. The "Erie...Our Great Lake" plate is emblazoned with an image of historic Marblehead Lighthouse in Ottawa County, the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the Great Lakes. Ohio artist Ben Richmond donated the plate's design. Last year, Ohioans purchased 49,456 sets of Lake Erie plates, donating $759,838 to the Lake Erie Protection Fund. Grants from the fund support research and projects that address the goals of the Lake Erie Protection & Restoration Plan, Ohio's blueprint for the Lake Erie region. Projects funded include wildlife observation decks at East Harbor State Park, studies of native and non-native mussels and surveys of critical habitats for young fish stocks. Plate holders receive semi-annual newsletters with updated information on Lake Erie Protection Fund projects. To purchase or renew an Ohio conservation license plate, visit the nearest Bureau of Motor Vehicles Registrar location; call toll free 1-888-PLATES3 (888-752-8373) or apply on line at

. www.OPLATES.COM .