Archived entries for Stewardship

Update: State Budget and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

The end is in sight for Wisconsin’s state budget process, with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance scheduled to take a final round of votes in early September. All indications from the Legislature point to no further changes being made to funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The Stewardship Program is currently funded at $33 million per year, with $7 million available for nonprofit matching grants.

Photo: Brant Erickson

Despite the fact that the Stewardship Program has moved through the Joint Finance Committee without changes or cuts, the land trust community must remain vigilant during the remaining legislative session. As we shared earlier in 2017, companion Bills AB338/SB270 were introduced back in May by Rep. August and Sen. Nass. These bills would essentially end crucial parts of the Stewardship Program through a convoluted process—utilizing program funding to purchase lands that are already owned by the state’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL). The revenue generated from this sale is proposed to create a scholarship fund at the UW.

We have vocally opposed the bills since prior to their introduction earlier this year, and we sent a letter to all legislative offices in opposition, requesting that legislators not sign on as co-sponsors. Additionally, we sent action alerts out to our members and spent a couple of days in the Capitol asking Representatives and Senators not to sign on to the bills as a co-sponsor. These advocacy efforts appear to be paying off, as the number of co-sponsors on the bills was fairly small, 11 in the Assembly, 5 in the Senate. The status of these bills will need to be monitored until the end of the session, and pressure against them must be maintained.

State Senator Sheila Harsdorf named Policymaker of the Year

Policymaker of the Year – State Senator Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls has demonstrated an enduring commitment to land and water conservation in Wisconsin through her role on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, her service on the board of the Wisconsin Conservation Corps, and her role as a board member of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust from 1998 to 2001. Her long-time support of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program embodies Wisconsin’s strong bi-partisan legacy of land conservation.

As a founding Steering Committee Member of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, Senator Harsdorf helped KRLT grow to the strong organization it is today, that now protects over 2,800 acres of land, and 9 miles of vulnerable stream bank in the Kinnickinnic River watershed. In addition to her work with KRLT, Senator Harsdorf has also been an ardent supporter of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and has volunteered on the Trail many times over the years.

 

Her support of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has helped the Ice Age Trail Alliance and its partners protect approximately 160 properties, 14,000 acres, and nearly 90 miles of the Ice Age Trail. In the 2015-2017 budget, the Senator helped restore funding for the Stewardship Program, including $1M in funds for the acquisition of lands for the Ice Age Trail. Her support of the Stewardship Program helps land trusts all over Wisconsin protect the places that make Wisconsin such a special place to live. The Stewardship Program “would not have been funded without the continuous and stalwart efforts of Senator Sheila Harsdorf,” (Herb & Corrine Lundberg, Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteers.)

For all these reasons, Gathering Waters is pleased to present Policymaker of the Year Award to State Senator Sheila Harsdorf on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.

Driftless Area Land Conservancy named Land Trust of the Year

Land Trust of the Year Award – Driftless Area Land Conservancy is a nationally accredited land trust that has protected over 7,000 acres of unique natural and agricultural landscapes in southwest Wisconsin. Through the strong leadership of their board and the tireless efforts of their staff, the Conservancy has grown into an invaluable local asset: working to protect the natural resources of their region and providing public access, advocacy, and outdoor education programming in communities across their 5-county service area.

The Driftless Area Land Conservancy organizes countless educational programs, field trips, special events, training opportunities, and community conservation projects each year.

Under the leadership of their Executive Director Dave Clutter, the Conservancy is actively developing an ambitious plan to increase public access through the Driftless Area Trail– a project that would connect three state parks and other state lands, creating  a nearly 50-mile hiking loop. The Trail has real potential to boost tourism and economic development in the region.

Dave Clutter, Executive Director of DALC at Erikson Conservation Area

While doing this important work, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy team has developed a reputation for “being a thoughtful, forward thinking, strategic and passionate nonprofit in Southwestern Wisconsin,” according to Paul Ohlrogge with UW Extension. They also excel at fostering collaboration through efforts like the Lowry Creek Partnership near Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Taliesin, coordinating the Southwest Wisconsin Grasslands and Stream Conservation partnership, and facilitating multi-partner ecological restoration activities in the region.

The Conservancy has recently stepped up as an advocate for the unique landscape in the Driftless, organizing a coalition of community members opposed new transmission line infrastructure, which threatens to impact the scenic beauty and natural resources in the region.

Gathering Waters is thrilled to present the Land Trust of the Year Award to the Driftless Area Land Conservancy on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.

 

Terry & DiAnne Hatch receive Land Legacy Award

Land Legacy Award – Terry & DiAnne Hatch are Iron County landowners whose generous support of land conservation in Wisconsin has been deeply impactful. Their contributions have created a legacy of protected land throughout the state and have bolstered advocacy efforts to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in public conservation funding through Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

Terry served for several years on the Gathering Waters Board of Directors, and he and DiAnne have long supported conservation organizations ranging from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters to the Northwoods Land Trust.

While serving for seven years on Gathering Waters’ Board of Directors, Terry, often accompanied by DiAnne, made countless trips from his home in Illinois to meetings in Wisconsin. The Hatches’ commitment of time and energy has been matched only by their generous donations. As one of the most significant contributors in Gathering Waters’ nearly 25-year history, “the impact of their gift can be seen and felt in the growth and strength of Gathering Waters’ work, and reverberates statewide through enhanced land trust excellence and the lasting protection of some of Wisconsin’s most special places,” said Sara DeKok, former Associate Director at Gathering Waters.

In addition to financial support, Terry and DiAnne have demonstrated their conservation ethic through the permanent protection of their land in northern Wisconsin, donating a conservation easement that is held by the Northwoods Land Trust.

Generous, yet humble, thoughtful and measured, Terry and DiAnne have donated time, energy, resources, land, and immeasurable support to Wisconsin land conservation.

Gathering Waters is thrilled to present Terry and DiAnne Hatch with the Land Legacy Award on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.

 

Dan Wisniewski receives Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Stewardship Award

Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Stewardship Award—Dan Wisniewski of Middleton has spent decades influencing public policy to benefit land and water conservation in Wisconsin. He has increased collaboration among conservation groups and served as a dedicated board member with Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) for twelve years.

NWLT holds over 80 conservation easements protecting more than 11,000 acres, including 27 miles of lake frontage and 33 miles of river frontage.  Through his 30 years of volunteering at the local, state, and national levels with Trout Unlimited (TU), Dan has played a critical role in securing funding for stream restoration and improved public access while fostering cooperation among TU, land trusts, and government agencies.

In his distinguished career in state and local government, Dan was committed to working for progressive conservation policies and funding.  As Secretary of the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, he initiated a program for identifying quality natural area lands that eventually led to the sale of about 12,000 acres to DNR. He also played a key role in advocating for the 65,000 acre Wild Rivers Legacy Forest in northeast Wisconsin and has been a strong supporter of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

For seven years, Dan has served as a citizen member of the Dane County Parks Commission, helping to direct one of the best local conservation programs in the country in collaboration with land trusts like Natural Heritage Land Trust and The Prairie Enthusiasts, as well as other conservation groups like TU; helping to secure Stewardship funding.

Dan also served as a board member of Pheasant Branch Conservancy and is helping to build a Dane County Parks Endowment, to better support the efforts of several thousand county park volunteers. He believes citizen volunteers can and must engage in issues vital to protecting our natural resources.

Those who have worked with him describe his passion for conservation and his savvy approach to fundraising and public policy advocacy. “[He] has spent years—decades—working steadily and effectively on a variety of levels to conserve lands and waters and provide the public with access to them.  His efforts have helped his communities, his state, and the nation to accomplish those goals.” —John (Duke) Welter, Trout Unlimited

 

 

Jim Welsh named Conservationist of the Year

Conservationist of the Year – Jim Welsh, Executive Director of the Natural Heritage Land Trust (NHLT), has been instrumental in the protection of many of the most loved and valued places in south central Wisconsin. During Jim’s successful tenure over the past 15 years, NHLT has achieved national accreditation and now has conserved over 10,000 acres of farms, forests, prairies, and wetlands in and around Dane County.

Under Jim’s leadership, NHLT has preserved land in rural, agricultural, and urban environments, including  historical areas like John Muir’s original family farm in Marquette County. Jim, hailed by many as a thoughtful and committed leader, is passionate that everyone deserves access to nature and open spaces.  He has worked with community members to support important conservation education initiatives, including expanding the forest at Lakeview Elementary School, and protecting land for use by low-income communities as gardens for food production.

 

One of Jim’s nominators, Michael Foy, summed up his qualifications this way: “Jim is absolutely the model of an effective modern conservationist, and everything we could hope for in a land protection partner. His enthusiasm to try new approaches, professionalism, quiet good humor, realism, and dedication to land protection makes him a pleasure to work with.”

For these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to present Jim Welsh with the Conservationist of the Year Award on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.

 

State and Federal Land Conservation Programs are at Risk

If ever there was a time for Wisconsin’s land trusts and the conservation community to work together with a common purpose, this is it. Many of our top priorities at the state and federal levelsWisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and public land ownership—face grave threats, and we need your support and involvement.

State Threats

Lands purchased through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program help protect Wisconsin’s air and water quality, and provide outdoor places that are close to home, where folks go to find peace, recreate, and reap the health benefits associated with such areas. Assembly Bill 338 seeks to reallocate most of that funding to create scholarships for students and purchase low-value lands currently owned by the state.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program helps keep pace with an ever-growing need for public access to undeveloped, natural greenspaces throughout the state–like the one pictured here. Photo by Amy Singh

Federal Threats

The President’s 2018 budget proposal threatens to completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides critical funds that clean up and reduce pollution, prevent invasive species from ruining our waters, and keep our Great Lakes healthy.

The federal budget proposal also includes severe cuts to the Land & Water Conservation Fund, a program that creates and protects national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development. It also provides matching grants to states for their local parks and recreation projects.

These federal programs protect our nation’s most valuable assets: clean water, air, and the kind of natural landscapes that are so important for our physical and mental well being. Photo by Mindy Petersen.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Urge Wisconsin legislators to oppose this bill.

Let your state senators and house member know why you care about these important federal programs.

Looking for additional ways to help? Here are 7 ways to help protect your public lands and waters.

20 Year Habitat Investment Protected Forever

The following press release was written by our land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

MONROE COUNTY, WIS – George and Carmeen Johnston of Norwalk have protected 20 years of work on their land in the headwaters of the Kickapoo River where they have restored native tallgrass prairie and removed invasive species.

By signing a conservation agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy on the 54-acre property near Norwalk they have stated their wish that the prairies and oak woodlands on the property be protected from development, according to Megan Kabele, MVC conservation specialist who worked with the Johnstons on protecting their land. The development restrictions become part of the title to the land, which must be honored by future owners of the land. MVC will monitor the property once a year for compliance, according to the agreement.

George Johnston, a retired stream biologist and a longtime member of the Conservancy, said: “At some point Im going to be gone. I dont want whoever buys this place to be able to do whatever with it. Weve spent a lot of time caring for this place. I want to continue to have control over what happens with this land after Im not around anymore.”

He added that when he and Carmeen learned their land was in the Kickapoo River watershed they thought protecting the land would make a difference for water quality in the river. “It would be nice if more people would put conservation easements on their land.”

“Prescribed burning continues to be used to control invasive species and encourage native plants. As a result, the Johnston property features an incredible mix of habitat types that testify to their hard work and are a source of inspiration for landowners seeking prairie and woodland restoration,” Kabele said. The Johnston’s have not only protected their investment in habitat restoration, they are protecting rural open space values and are providing permanent vegetation for cleaner waters.

Carmeen Johnston said, “We are glad that our little bit of heaven can stay our little bit of heaven. We wouldn’t have known what to do, if it werent for Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Asked to tell a favorite story about the land, George said that several years after they bought the property, he was out walking on the back side of the property. “All the western sunflowers were in bloom. I started looking around…the more I looked, the more species I found. We didnt know that back area was a prairie remnant. It was just really exciting to find a prairie remnant. I spent my career in fisheries, but I love plants. Ive always been more interested in botany than anything else. Ive spent my whole life outside. If I see something new, I have to identify it.”

Kabele said George’s work restoring the prairie has resulted in more native plants returning. “These improved habitats form natural communities that include wildflowers, grasses, and sedges — critical resources for declining pollinators.”

Carol Abrahamzon, MVC executive director, said, “Through their conservation easement George and Carmeen have provided an enduring legacy to future generations while achieving peace of mind, knowing that their land will be taken care of far into the future.”

Scenic farm and bluffland property protected forever.

We received some wonderful news last week from our member land trust Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC). If you have a connection to the Mississippi River Valley, or simply care about protecting special places in Wisconsin, you’ll want to read MVC’s press release below:

Mississippi River Valley Property Conserved

A drive the through the Mississippi River Valley now features brilliant fall colors, and a short distance east of Ferryville, Mississippi Valley Conservancy has ensured 189-acres of scenic bluffland will remain intact for future generations. The Conservancy completed a conservation agreement with Ken and Deneen Kickbusch on Thursday, October 20th to permanently protect their 189-acre farm and bluffland.  The voluntary conservation agreement protects the scenic beauty and wildlife habitat by limiting future subdivision, development, mining, and other unsustainable activities that are inconsistent with the landowner’s wishes. The land remains in private ownership and is not open to the public.

“The animals and the birds don’t always have contiguous habitat, and our land can make a difference for the wildlife,” said Deneen, “we have so many great memories here.” Their memories include hunting trips with sons and grandsons, camping within view of the Mississippi River, working in the prairie, serenades by whippoorwills, and startling wood ducks out of the ponds.  Carol Abrahamzon, Executive Director for the Conservancy stated, “Ken and Deneen have been so thoughtful about the use of their land and the future of that land. We are honored to be a part of realizing their dream to protect the wildlife and its habitat.”

 

kickbusch-ac-007

The Kickbusch 189 acre property is comprised of farmland, bluffland and prairie communities. Its protection ensures wildlife and native plants will have suitable habitat, forever.  

Photo by: Mississippi Valley Conservancy

The Kickbusch’s bought the land in 1976, attracted to the rural character, the lack of buildings, and the wildlife. The land is a mix of agricultural land and wooded bluffs, with the steep rugged topography characteristic of the Driftless Area. Ken and Deneen recognized the importance of land preservation, watching changes to the landscape as commodity prices rise, stating, “a conservation easement would provide the kind of protection that this highly erodible land deserves”. Nationwide an acre of farmland is lost every minute from conversion to other land uses. Over the years, terraces and water retention ponds were added to the Kickbusch property to address soil erosion and runoff. “When we bought the property, we restored the ponds,” said Ken, “which were as full this year as they have ever been, and always used by the wood ducks. Once, I counted sixteen wood ducks flying out of the pond.”

The land also includes several “goat” prairies, labeled as such because the early settlers thought they were so steep, only a goat could climb them. The prairies include the same wildflowers and grasses that were present here 200 years ago. The agreement with the Conservancy ensures that habitat remains intact for wildlife, and future owners honor the conservation practices within the farmland. “There is just too much abuse of the land, devastating local communities, rivers, wildlife,” said Ken “we felt this was something solid, something real we could do for the future”.

great-plains-ladies-tresses

Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchid, found on the Kickbusch property. The orchid was recently added to the DNR’s list of species of “Special Concern”. The native wildflowers & grasses found today have been present on the Kickbusch land for over 200 years. 

Photo by: Mississippi Valley Conservancy

“The Kickbusch’s land provides a great example of how little is known about the habitat right here in our backyard,” remarked Abbie Church, Conservation Director for the Conservancy, “as we walked through the prairie, we found a small stalk of snow-white blooms, and a Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchid. We walked on to find five other stalks. This orchid was recently added to the Wisconsin DNR’s list of species of “Special Concern” and the University of Wisconsin herbarium has no previous records of this orchid being found in Crawford County. One week later we found yet another species of rare orchid, this time in the woods, another new record for Crawford County.” The prairie today is in great shape due to Ken and Deneen’s efforts. “Fifteen years ago Ken went out and cut the red cedars in the prairie,” according to Deneen, “It looks much better today than ever before; the prairie is so beautiful”.

 

Ron Endres named 2016 Conservationist of the Year

Ron Endres is a private landowner and champion of native area restoration in Dane County. In addition to being a model steward to his and many of his neighbors’ lands, Ron is also an incredibly active volunteer with numerous area organizations. But what truly makes him special is far more unique. From July through December, Ron works almost every day collecting, drying and processing native forb and grass seeds to provide them free-of-charge, to local non-profits and private landowners.

Ron leading the United Way Day-Of-Caring Volunteers seed collecting

Ron leading the United Way Day-Of-Caring Volunteers seed collecting.

Ron’s land stewardship activities are truly inspirational. He has worked over the last 25 years to reconstruct a 21 acre prairie and spends much of his time maintaining the land, adding to its species diversity and fighting back invasive species. He helps many of his neighbors as well, burning their prairies, treating their invasives, and restoring their land.

Ron is also an invaluable volunteer for many area organizations such as Dane County Parks, The Prairie Enthusiasts, The Ice Age Trail Alliance, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Swamplovers, and many others. He leads school kids and adult volunteers, serves on a board, is a chain saw team member, leads prairie plantings and burns, as well as seed collection and processing.

Ron leading a prairie planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Ron leading a prairie planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery.

It is, however, what Ron does in addition to these stewardship and volunteer activities that makes him so unique. From July through December, Ron works almost every day collecting, drying and processing native forb and grass seeds—providing hundreds of pounds and more than 100 species of seed, free of charge, to nonprofits and private landowners each year.

Ron’s seed collecting for donation

Ron’s seed collecting for donation

From big projects like a 23 acre planting at Hickory Hill in Cross Plains, a 30 plus acre planting at Holy Wisdom Monastery, and countless acres of planting at Swamplover’s conservancy—to small projects like Kettle Pond in Madison, a municipal restoration in Beloit, and a neighborhood restoration at Odana golf course; Ron’s seeds have ended up in restorations all over the county. His unwavering commitment to native habitat restoration makes it Gathering Waters’ honor to award Ron the prestigious Conservationist of the Year award. Ron will be presented with his award at a Friends of Wisdom Prairie Dinner Lecture on November 2. Click here to learn more and register.



Gathering Waters • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 • info@gatheringwaters.org