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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

February 1996

A moving statement

With an Endangered Resources license plate, you can speak on behalf of Wisconsin's flora and fauna.

Marta Anderson Trimble

Even as a boy I knew a gesture might mean the difference between life or death, and I believed the Universe was similarly triggered. – Barry Lopez, River Notes

There's a new animal howling down Wisconsin's highways. In fact, as of October 1995, pack totals of these soft-muzzled, long-legged, clear-eyed, warm-blooded Canis lupus look-alikes have surpassed 10,000. Wolves are on the run on Wisconsin's Endangered Resources license plates, and their howling speaks for people who have chosen to support the 18 wolf packs and scores of endangered animals, plants and habitats clinging to life in our state.

Maybe you've noticed that some of these plates have messages to share, messages as varied as the people who've chosen them. Beyond the annual $25 fee which goes directly to support Bureau of Endangered Resources programs, an annual $15 "vanity" fee secures six letters of the purchaser's choice. Six letters can be barely more than a gesture, and viewers must puzzle out a longer story for LIFE4S, BROWLF, 4LUPUS, GOOWLL, DVRSTY, DON 8, WLFSNG and NEEDED. What exactly are these people saying?

In a world where we always seem to be going too fast (with a lot of time spent in cars and trucks), it's difficult to stop and consider who we are, what we value, what the surrounding world means to us and what we might wish to say about that to those around us. Displaying an Endangered Resources license plate registers environmental awareness and provides an avenue for self-expression in the whirling traffic of anonymity.

Donald and Jean Wilde of Watertown love to see nature. They visit the bald eagles at Sauk City and camp up North in the national forests. Their O2BWLD plate speaks not only of personal longing, but translates as "let the animals be free and keep 'em like that." Robert Paneitz, active in water quality management in Manitowish Waters, used to be a big-game hunter. Now he's mostly "interested in animals as they are." To Paneitz, SAVEUM means just that: "If we don't have those animals, if we start eliminating them, we are going to get ourselves in trouble."

There are those who identify with all animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) supporter Ginger Hartman wanted to make a statement. She chose RESPCT to describe her view on animal rights.

4PAWZZ might speak for a lot of animals, but this particular plate is meant specifically for Sandie, a five-year-old sheltie. "The apple of my eye," says Peggy Luckow of Milwaukee. "I saw the wolf on the plate. It looks a lot like my dog."

The dog best exemplifies the human need to reach for wilder things and bring them home. You get the connection when you see a big golden head hanging out the window of Gregory Du Bois's Toyota 4-Runner. That's when the AHROOO is really understandable, confides his partner, Kathie Campbell of Cross Plains: "It's like a boy and his dog." The dog is Chee, a 130-pound Akita.

The HOWLEN trailing loud and clear behind Gerald Wolf's car, however, is pure wolf. Sound is his business – he tests and fits hearing aids – and what better vocalization than howling to identify with his namesake? Wolf's license plate is part of an extensive collection of wolf memorabilia. "I just like it as an animal," Wolf says of the wolf. "I like its family life, the fact that it mates for life."

The current status of wolves

For wolves today, mating for life is often interrupted by premature mortality. Six of Wisconsin's 35 radio-collared wolves died from July 1, 1994 through June 30, 1995; two from vehicle collisions and two from shootings. Radio collaring helps researchers monitor the movement of wolves across northern Wisconsin and has been an invaluable aid in the state wolf recovery program.

Officially active since 1989, the wolf recovery program has become a successful showcase for DNR's Bureau of Endangered Resources. Although other successful restoration programs increased public awareness of other species, including the trumpeter swan, bald eagle, Forster's tern, pine marten and peregrine falcon, when the Endangered Resources License Plate Bill was signed into law on April 22, 1994, the wolf was destined to be the people's choice. When citizens were asked to vote on plate designs during the following summer, artist Alanna Thay's wolf summoned an overwhelming majority of the 29,000 votes cast.

The wolf license plate stands for all of Wisconsin's endangered species. It's a reminder of the extensive network of DNR staff and volunteers working together at State Natural Areas and on the Natural Heritage Inventory to identify, highlight, protect and manage Wisconsin's wealth of species and habitats. Chosen by people as a symbol of what is precious and worth protecting, the wolf points toward an evolving human environmental ethic.

NWRNVR! In Appleton, Doris Cobb speaks of environmental issues and work close to her heart. "It's now or never, folks!" she says. "We've got to pay attention." A past director of the Outagamie County Housing Authority, she now volunteers at the Mosquito Hill Nature Center and has landscaped her own back yard into a "natural habitat" certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

Andrea Benavente of Madison would also like others to be more aware of the natural world. "I'm such a big advocate!" she says. "People need to be educated. People need to look in their own back yard. We have a back yard right here that needs help." Andrea voted for the wolf design and was one of the first to register her selection, WLFPK, in January 1995.

"People give me the thumbs-up when they drive by," Andrea says.

Greetings from one pack member to another, like those waves Gerald Wolf receives from other drivers with Endangered Resources license plates. Just gestures? If a gesture is a body movement that conveys a particular message, then wolf license plates are genuine gestures. They speak for a particular person, their world view, their story. But they also tell Wisconsin's story: We're proud of the wolf's return, proud of a state in which there is RM4ALL.

So thumbs-up to all wolf plate owners. If you, too, would like to run with the wolves, get an Endangered Resources license plate application at any Wisconsin Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Customer Service Center.

Maybe it is only a gesture, but it just may be the one that points to the happy ending of everyone's story.

Marta Anderson Trimble writes for DNR's Bureau of Endangered Resources in Madison, Wis.