Archived entries for Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

A Legacy and Gift

John Muir, the nineteenth century naturalist, writer and advocate of wilderness preservation, is most often associated with California. He did, after all, spend much of his later life there, working tirelessly to protect its forests and mountains. But his early years were spent in Wisconsin, on his family’s farm near Portage. It was there, amongst woods, prairies, wetlands and glacial lakes that he developed his lifelong passion for the natural world, which became a national legacy and inspiration.

Born in Scotland, Muir came with his family to the United States as a young boy. His parents settled in Marquette County in central Wisconsin and started farming. He later described his feelings at first seeing his new home: “This sudden splash into pure wilderness – baptism in Nature’s warm heart – how utterly happy it made us!” and “Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!”

Photo by Brant Erickson

This Stewardship project protects a Wisconsin legacy while providing locals and visitors with a destination spot where they can explore, recreate and more. Photo by Brant Erickson.

About a century later, Bessie McGwin Eggleston and her husband owned a farm in Marquette County that included 38 acres of what had once been part of Muir’s family farm. Bessie felt a strong personal connection to her land and to nature, writing: “I think we have to help our children learn to appreciate and to enjoy the beauties of nature. If we can develop the appreciation for the loveliness which has been given us, we will also develop the desire to preserve these precious gifts for the heritage of future generations.”

Bessie wished to have her entire 198 acre property permanently protected, to benefit future generations. Although she didn’t live to see it, her wish was granted when her family sold the land to Natural Heritage Land Trust. While a number of organizations and donors chipped in, the fulfillment of this dream wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

credit - McGwin Family Photo Collection

This photo of Bessie on the farm is courtesy of the McGwin Family Photo Collection.

Now, a portion of the land will become part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail while another will be added to the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge. And all of it will be open to the public for hiking, hunting, cross-country skiing, fishing, trapping, and bird-watching; a fitting tribute to both John Muir and Bessie McGwin Eggleston.

“ In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir. Photo by H. W. Bradley and William Rulofson

“ In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir. Photo by H. W. Bradley and William Rulofson

Lucky Stoughton

Dane County and the City of Stoughton now have a new, special place to make their own. As future development continues around this newly protected place, these 40-acres of untouched land will remain a true sanctuary and source of outdoor adventure for community members.

That’s right, Natural Heritage Land Trust (NHLT) recently purchased 40-acres of land that boasts over a mile of frontage on the Yahara River and is a popular stopover for migrating waterfowl (click for a map). NHLT is donating the land to the City of Stoughton to be enjoyed as a conservancy park where the public will have permanent access to the river. The city’s plans for the property include an extension of the bike trail that starts in the heart of the city and presently ends in Viking County Park, just south of the acquired property.

Yahara Waterway

Yahara Waterway by Mario Quintana

This community asset was made possible through funding provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Dane County Conservation Fund, and Natural Heritage Land Trust members. The previous landowner’s willingness to sell the land to Natural Heritage Land Trust for less than its fair market value played an equally vital role.

Enjoy, Stoughton!

Stories of Stewardship: Students of the Land

“Stories of Stewardship” is a special blog series that tells the stories of Wisconsin citizens whose lives and communities have benefited from the land conservation made possible through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program– a program so valuable, we at Gathering Waters work hard to ensure it remains well funded.

The following story was written by Roger Packard and David Musolf, of Jefferson County:

We might as well admit up front that we are addicted to ecological restoration. Fanatics. Bitten by the ‘prairie bug’ in a big way. With us, Leopold met his objective and then some.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Meeting the first part of Leopold’s objective—learning to see the land—was the hardest. Even though we have both been nature nuts all our lives, it took time and effort to see the big picture—to see beyond the rectangular grid imposed on the land by European settlers, to look under the pastoral façade and through the tangled mess of non-native vegetation where the farm fields ended. But once our eyes adjusted, myriad clues that had been hidden in plain view came into focus.

Reading these clues backwards in time, we began to understand how changing land use practices since the time of European settlement have altered native biological communities, and how, following the retreat of the glaciers, these diverse communities arose under the influence of fire, water and wind, as well as the influence the new plant and animal inhabitants, including humans.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

As for enjoyment—well, we couldn’t help that. To begin to understand how the area’s diverse biological communities developed is a real thrill. To begin using this understanding to restore the landscape that the Native Americans knew is more thrilling still. So, with our first six acres of prairie restoration in 1994, the positive feedback loop was in place. The developing restorations helped us to see the land and its inhabitants more clearly, our understanding of the land deepened, our enjoyment of the land increased, we took on more restorations…and before we knew it, we were hooked.

In 1997, we joined forces with the Madison Audubon Society to establish the Faville Grove Sanctuary. Together with Madison Audubon, we have protected our land through conservation easements. With the help of the state Stewardship Fund as well as various other governmental programs and private contributions, we have permanently protected a total of 510 acres. Together with other landowners, including the University of Wisconsin- Madison and The Nature Conservancy, we are managing over 800 acres within the Faville Grove Sanctuary boundary.

With a corps of dedicated volunteers, we have planted well over 200 acres of prairie by hand with hand-collected, local genotype seed from over 130 species. With crews of summer interns, we have eliminated a gazillion weeds. We have filled miles of drainage ditches (not by hand!), cleared acres of savanna of encroaching brush, and generally worked every spare minute to return the sanctuary lands to their pre-European-settlement grandeur.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Photo by Roger Packard & David Musolf.

Recently, together with a small army of sanctuary supporters, we accomplished something generally deemed impossible: we succeeded in rerouting a proposed electric transmission line that would have run through the sanctuary. In rejecting the ‘sanctuary route’ for the line, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin considered not only the ecological and aesthetic effects on the sanctuary, but the chilling effect the line would have had on future cooperative efforts to protect and restore private land in the state. The Public Service Commission decision underscores the importance of such efforts, and should reassure other landowners that the state will honor the sacrifices we make to protect the land.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, Aldo Leopold and his students worked with landowners in Faville Grove to develop methods to enhance wildlife on private lands. Leopold recognized then that conservation is “eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed to be performed by government.” We suspect he also knew that by teaching students to see, to understand, and to enjoy the land, he would get them hooked on bringing the land back to life.

Building on Leopold’s legacy, Madison Audubon Society established the Faville Grove Sanctuary to protect the area and extend habitat for remnant populations of rare and endangered species. The sanctuary includes tamarack bog, sedge meadow, oak savanna and woods, as well as some of the state’s finest wet prairie restorations. Nearly $500,000 in grants from the Stewardship Fund have helped make possible the protection of this diverse and historic landscape.

2014: An Exciting, New Year

Hopefully your 2014 is off to an excellent start…. We at Gathering Waters are definitely looking forward to all that this new year has to offer— we’re launching our new and improved three-year strategic plan and it’s our 20th anniversary!

Here’s an overview of the great things we have planned this year:

In the public policy & advocacy arena:

  • Education, education, education! With the state budget coming up a year from now and the Gubernatorial election set for this fall, we’ll be working hard to make sure legislators know exactly how important it is that the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program remains strong and that the Gubernatorial candidates are keenly aware of the important role land conservation and land trusts play in their communities.
  • Partnerships. The Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition  is accomplishing such great things, we’ll definitely continue working with them to ensure that local, state and federal officials continue to make Great Lakes restoration a priority.
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We’ll be working hard to ensure the best interests of our land trusts are being represented in the political arena.

Providing direct services & technical assistance:

  • Staying true. True to our core objective that is- to strengthen Wisconsin’s land trusts, ensuring that they have the resources, tools, and know-how to meet community needs and protect the places that make Wisconsin so special.
  • More partnerships. We will we bring land trusts together to create efficiencies through shared staff, pooled resources, and joint funding opportunities. We’ll also continue our work with the Lake Michigan Shorelands Alliance to help identify, protect, restore and manage lands that protect the water quality, wildlife habitats, and the scenic integrity of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan Basin.
  • Retreat! Our annual Land Trust Retreat this October will offer an unparalleled opportunity for learning, networking, and fun among land trust peers and conservation experts from around the state.
Topic Tables 1

We’ll be doing all we can to ensure our land trusts have what they need, to meet community needs and protect the places that make Wisconsin special.

Spreading the good word:

  • Turn up the volume. You may not realize the extent of the value your local land trust brings to you and your loved ones. We’re going to do a better job of making sure you know.
  • Put it in writing. This fall, in honor of the twenty years we have been working to strengthen land trusts, we will be publishing a collection of stories, highlighting the many ways land trusts benefit Wisconsin’s collective health, economy and education.
  • Let’s Party! Our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration is happening September 26th. It’s definitely the place to be if you’re interested in Wisconsin land conservation. And on May 3rd, we’ll be honoring you and others who make it possible for us to continue Wisconsin’s incredible land legacy, at our annual Land Legacy Gathering. Better save the dates and grab your party shoes.
Table Bluff - July by Kate

We’ll be spreading the word of our land trusts’ successes and of the countless opportunities and benefits they provide.

As you can see, it’s going to be an incredible, busy year.  We’re looking forward to it and appreciate all of the feedback and help we can get. Feel free to shoot us an email with your thoughts or support the work we’re doing with a tax-deductible gift.  Cheers, to this wonderful new year!

Stories of Stewardship: A Sportsman on Stewardship

“Stories of Stewardship” is a special blog series that tells the stories of Wisconsin citizens whose lives and communities have benefited from the land conservation made possible through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program– a program so valuable, we at Gathering Waters work hard to ensure it remains well funded.

The following story was written by Jim Evrard, of Burnett County:

As a retired DNR wildlife biologist and an active volunteer in several conservation groups, I’ve been involved in public land acquisition in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years. When I started with the DNR, most of our acquisition money for wildlife management lands came from a tax charged on arms and ammunition. When Gaylord Nelson was governor, he created the Outdoor Recreation Act Program (ORAP), providing funds for recreational land acquisition by imposing a penny per pack tax on cigarettes. That program has evolved into the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program we know today.

crex staff 3

Now the lakeshore is completely owned by the public and should remain wild forever.

Many tracts of land near my home in Northwestern Wisconsin were bought with Stewardship funds, but a recent acquisition is my favorite. Some years ago, a key tract of land on the northwest corner of the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area was put up for sale. The 170-acre tract was an old farm with idle agricultural fields, a young red pine plantation and the northern half of a small prairie lake. A local attorney bought the land, and when he died, his widow inherited the old farm.

The south shore of the lake had been owned by the DNR for years, and it was home to nesting waterfowl, loons, and even a pair of osprey. It was feared that when the land on the northern side was sold, summer residences would be built and the wildlife use of the wetland would decrease drastically. But these fears were never realized due to good land stewardship by the former owners. The only change made to the land was a duck hunting blind used by the family on the northern edge of the lake. The widow’s son-in-law is conservation-minded, and he suggested that she sell the land to the DNR so that it would be included in the Crex Meadows project. Now the lakeshore is completely owned by the public and should remain wild forever.

crex birds in flight -- crex staff

Through the years, I’ve watched wildlife on the lake and surrounding grasslands.

In addition to the Stewardship Program, the Friends of Crex and the Sharp-tailed Grouse Society contributed funds to purchase the land, but the Stewardship Program was the catalyst that put together the partnership needed to buy the property. This partnership between a public agency and private conservation groups is a good example of  cooperation between the government and its citizens. This spirit of cooperation continues in other projects including habitat management and recreational development.

As a retired person on a pension, I can’t afford to own land for hunting and other outdoor recreation. Land values have skyrocketed to a point where only wealthy persons can afford to buy and own extensive tracts of land or lakeshore. The rest of us increasingly depend upon public property for our outdoor recreation needs. Through the
years, I’ve watched wildlife on the lake and surrounding grasslands. I’ve hunted deer and wild turkeys on the edges of the property since the DNR acquired the land, and I’m looking forward to hunting ducks on the lake. Thanks to the Stewardship Program, I should be able to continue my recreational use of the property for many years in the future.

The Crex Meadows Wildlife Area near Grantsburg, in Burnett County, encompasses over 30,000 acres of wetland, woodland, and restored brush prairie. The area has been publicly protected since 1946, with Stewardship funding continuing to support its growth, preservation and maintenance. Crex Meadows is known for its hunting, hiking and wildlife observation opportunities.

With Many Thanks, to You

With 2013 winding to a close, we’ve been thinking about all that’s happened over the course of the last year and one theme pops up time and time again: all the ways that you, our supporters, are enriching the lives of countless Wisconsinites− including those of future generations. This awareness fills us with an incredible sense of gratitude; thank you.

Because of your support over the last year alone:

We fought successfully to maintain Knowles- Nelson Stewardship Program funding at $12 million annually, available for land trusts to protect the special places that make Wisconsin such a wonderful place to live, work, and play – for everyone. Protecting these special places supports tourism and the quality of life in our communities, and is beneficial to business and job growth.

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Over 700 staff and volunteers in the land trust community received education through training, workshops, mentoring and advising. These staff and volunteers do the on-the-ground, daily work to ensure the protection of our trails, forests, scenic vistas, family farms, and urban green spaces.

IATA Gibraltar Seg. Fall 2013 (82)

Together, we increased awareness and understanding of the value land trusts bring to their local communities, playing a key role in the quality of life and the economy of local communities. Understanding that land trusts protect values we all cherish is important to building support for their work, and enlivening the community of people whose lives have been touched by the magic of the outdoors.

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These are examples of the value you bring to our mission through your continued support and are a direct result of your vision, dedication, and generosity. Together, we’re helping to protect the places that make Wisconsin special. Again, thank you.

Stewardship begets salamanders, clean water

A special thank you to John Torinus, who so eloquently states the importance of the Stewardship Program in this post, which originally appeared on his blog, johntorinus.com.

spotted-salamander“Doctor Herp” called about 6 p.m. on a cold and rainy night recently and asked if we wanted to check out salamander matings in an ephemeral pond on a choice piece of Kettle Moraine land.

I declined and headed for the hot tub, but my wife Kine, educated as a biologist and a hugger of all species, said yes. She donned her waders and joined Gary Casper, the state’s best-known herpetologist, for what they considered an ideal outing.

They happily reported that the wet spring had a positive effect on biological processes and that there will be an abundance of small herptiles later in the season.

Of note, the property is owned by the Cedar Lake Conservation Foundation and was purchased with a grant from the Wisconsin Stewardship Fund. Critics of conservation efforts may sneer at the preservation of friendly environs for salamanders, but they are misguided. If the salamanders, toads and frogs are in trouble, we are in trouble, too.

Let us count the ways that preserved lands and the Stewardship Fund make a difference in our lives:

• Hundreds of cross country skiers use the same land east of Big Cedar Lake during the winter months on trails groomed by volunteers from the Fox Hill Nordic Ski Club. They make for a healthier community.

• Even more hikers, birders and dog walkers use the trails in the other three seasons. Open access is guaranteed under Stewardship rules.

• The ephemeral ponds allow for slow absorption of rain and snow melt back into the underlying aquifers and filter the run-off to Cedar Creek, the Milwaukee River and eventually Lake Michigan. Those would be our drinking waters.

• Any absorption upstream reduces flooding downstream.

• The lands surround Fox Hill, one of the finest kames in the Kettle Moraine, thus protecting its scenic contribution to our county.

This encounter with the salamanders may not seem pivotal in the grand affairs of mankind, but it embodies some larger issues that we need to be thinking about. And it is a timely issue because a group of accounting types in the Republican Part have raised the possibility of deleting all the funds for the Stewardship program.

The fund, which was created by bipartisan cooperation between Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson and Republican Gov. Warren Knowles, has spawned the creation of 55 land trusts in Wisconsin. These trusts, along with other organizations like Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and The Nature Conservancy, have been providing the matching funds to protect lands that can be used for hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing and all manner of recreation.

One of the most active has been the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has protected more than 5000 acres, much of it along the banks of the Milwaukee River. Along with funds for absorption areas from the Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewer District, Stewardship dollars have mitigated downstream flooding. That indirectly helps to cut raw sewage outflows into Lake Michigan.

The Republicans cut the funding for Stewardship from $83 million to $60 million for the very tight 2011-2013 budget. It was necessary because of the huge deficit entering that biennium. But the economy is stumbling to higher ground, so the austerity argument no longer applies. (In comparison, the Republicans in Madison are dumping more than $600 million in new dollars into the under-managed Medicaid program.)

Meanwhile, we’re not doing so hot when it comes to protecting our natural resources. West Bend is down to 700 feet for drinking water; it was 50 feet in the old days. Germantown is drilling down to 1200 feet. And Waukesha’s wells are sucking radon. A lot of municipalities are considering a default to Lake Michigan water.
Lake Michigan levels are at all time lows.

And Milwaukee Riverkeepers gave the Milwaukee River Basin a Grade “D.”

Here’s are pieces of the assessment: “Generally, turbidity readings in the two watersheds (Kinnickinnic and Menomonee) were very poor; dissolved oxygen and chloride grades were only mediocre; and both received failing grades for phosphorous, conductivity and indicators of bacteria.”

As for the Washington County parts of the assessment, “The Milwaukee River Watershed, consisting of the North Branch, East and West Branch and South Branch watersheds. as well as the Cedar Creek sub-watershed, dropped from a B- to a C in 2011. “ Some of the metrics were OK, but the whole watershed received an “F” for conductivity, phosphorous and bacteria.
Filtration helps all of those issues, which is why the land trusts have been accepting easements and buying lands along the riverbanks.

I have always had a hard time figuring out why conservatives in the GOP have gone anti-conservation. Conserving valuable resources, like our drinking and recreational waters, is a conservative thing to do. It should be looked at as an investment, not spending.

Conservation is also good politics. All polls show that a large majority of Americans, including hunters and anglers, are pro-conservation.

The GOP shouldn’t let short-sighted accountants drive the bus.

Post-Election Rundown

With the November elections behind us, we’re now focused on the upcoming state budget process here in Wisconsin and several important issues in Congress.  We will continue our non-partisan approach to our public policy work, reaching out and connecting land trusts with elected officials across the political spectrum.

One notable take-away from the recent elections is that conservation continues to be a high priority for citizens across the country, with 46 of 57 conservation-related ballot measures passing nationwide (an 81 percent success rate).  Through these measures, communities across the country approved more than $2 billion in conservation funding.

At the state level, we’ve been preparing for the next state budget process, which will formally begin with the release of the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal in January.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, the state begins the 2013 fiscal year with a $342.1million surplus which is the largest opening balance since fiscal year 2000-01.

We are focused on our two top priorities – the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the statewide Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program.  The Stewardship Program is authorized at $60 million annually through 2020, and we will be working with the Governor’s office, the Department of Natural Resources, and leadership in the Legislature to maintain this funding and to ensure that the program operates efficiently, and with the utmost transparency and accountability.  The Stewardship Program continues to be strongly supported by the public and provides direct support to the state’s tourism and forestry sectors, while enhancing the quality of life in communities throughout the state.

The statewide PACE program remains on the books but is currently unfunded and we are partnering with the American Farmland Trust and a broad Friends of Farmland Protection coalition to advocate for the program and identify possible sources for future funding.  Early this year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection released a PACE Evaluation Report, which provides a good basis for stream-lining and improving the program.

On the federal front, we are currently in a 45-day sprint to renew the enhanced tax incentive for the donation of easements and to pass the Farm Bill before Congress adjourns.  We’ve been working with partners like the Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust Alliance, and land trusts throughout the Great Lakes region to move these important conservation priorities forward.  Learn more.

As the negotiations on the “fiscal cliff” begin to ramp up, we’ve also been hearing that Congress may be looking to cap charitable deductions.  This issue is much larger than land trusts and would impact the broader nonprofit community nationwide, but it could have a very real impact on our work.  Learn more.

Please contact your elected officials to tell them how important these issues are for your organization and your community.  Here is contact information for state officials and for Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Stay tuned to the Conservation Policy section of our website for further updates.



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