Wisconsin’s Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program up for renewal in 2021 through state budget process

Stewardship Sign
Signs show land funded with Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program money. (Photo by Tim Eisele)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) turns its requested budget for the 2021–23 biennium in mid-September and then Gov. Tony Evers presents his proposed budget in February 2021.

What will be in the DNR’s requested budget is unknown, but one program that conservationists have long supported is renewal of the Knowles/Nelson Stewardship Program.  That program uses the sale of long-term bonds to fund purchases of special parcels of land.

The bonds are paid off in later years with tax revenues.

This allows land to be purchased “now” when it is cheaper than “later,” and allows future citizens, who will benefit from access to that land, to help pay off the bonds and interest.

The Stewardship Program began in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, expand opportunities for outdoor recreation and support timber and tourism industries.

The program traditionally was funded for a 10-year period, but in 2019 many Republican legislators concerned about spending reduced the program to two years and its renewal in 2021 will depend on how the new DNR budget moves through the DNR and governor’s office.

In late August, 58 Wisconsin conservation groups sent a letter to Evers supporting long-term renewal of the program.

Groups including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Audubon Council, Madison Audubon Society, Wisconsin Towns Association and many more asked the governor to renew the program.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified the need to get outdoors to stay healthy.  For many people, public land is the best way to recreate.
Land purchased with stewardship funds is open for hunting, fishing, trapping, cross country skiing and hiking.

Some of the money is used for the Ice Age National Trail. Local conservation groups and municipalities may also make funding requests for recreational facilities.

Those who enjoy visiting public lands may contact their legislator and the governor to express support for renewing the program.

Categories: Wisconsin – Tim Eisele

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