In collaboration with the University of New Mexico law school's Wild Friends education program and the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division, the state's Department of Transportation (NMDOT) has released its first Pollinator Protection license plate featuring student artwork.

The law school's Wild Friends program prompted the initiative and approached NMDOT for an outreach effort.

The Wild Friends program began at the UNM School of Law in 1991. Since then, the program has continued to collaborate with students in grades 4-12 to promote serving low-income schools and maintaining an educational focus on civics and science through the advancement of wildlife issues at the state legislature.



Susan George, senior attorney and director of the program and Sara Van Note, an educator in the program, explained that Wild Friends students have been ardently advocating for pollinator protection for several years now.

Their involvement included everything from drafting legislation to starting a pollinator garden at the Roundhouse and declaring a statewide Pollinator Protection Day. Beginning in the fall of 2018, Wild Friends students chose to advance their movement further.

"Wild Friends students in 11 schools across New Mexico voted to work on a bill to create a new specialty license plate to help protect pollinators during the 2019 state legislative session," George said. "Students from each school then traveled to the Roundhouse beginning in January 2019, where they advocated for their legislation by talking to legislators, testifying as expert witnesses and sending letters in support."

Two New Mexico legislators, Senator Sander Rue and Representative Liz Thomson, sponsored the legislation.

Once the bill was passed, Wild Friends students were encouraged to submit artwork for a new license plate design. The image needed to feature a plant native to New Mexico and pollinator.

A judging panel including two entomologists, a school teacher, staff from Wild Friends, NMDOT environmental liaison Steven Gisler and NMDOT landscape architect and roadside design manager William Hutchinson evaluated the student submissions. Judges assessed the entries based on aesthetic appeal and scientific accuracy.

The winning plate was designed by a sixth-grade student at the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy. The plate features a green sweat bee hovering above a pink blanket flower.

Though Wild Friends staff didn't participate in the panel's voting, George and Van Note expressed what they visually enjoy about the winning plate.

"We love the winning design because it highlights a beautiful native bee and its interdependence with a common yet vibrant New Mexico flower," they said.

In an effort to improve New Mexico's roadside environment, funds from sold plates will be directed to various pollinator-friendly planting projects specifically on state roads.

Hutchinson said that the allocated funds will be utilized to add pollinator seeds to projects within select areas, as well as identify areas with abundant pollinator resources.

"We would like to do some special pollinator plantings at certain NMDOT roadside rest areas," Hutchinson said. "NMDOT utilizes ecoregional seed mixes of grasses and forbs for disturbed areas within our right of way."

An interactive public map of vegetation zones and seed lists is available online.

Hutchinson said NMDOT is also planning to add signage informing the traveling public about the history of and fun facts about New Mexico's pollinator plants. He added that he hopes this initiative will generate greater public interest in NMDOT stewardship.

"This fits well with NMDOT's stewardship efforts in our 200,000 acres of roadside environment," he said. "We look forward to more collaborative efforts."

The license plate costs $25 for the initial purchase and $15 for yearly renewal. Plates may be purchased online at www.mvd.newmexico.gov.

Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli