Archived entries for Working Lands Conservation

20 Years Strong

Can you believe it? We’ve been strengthening Wisconsin’s land trusts for 20 years now! That’s right, it’s our 20th Anniversary.  We can’t think of a better time to reflect upon how we arrived at where we are today and the successes we’ve had along the way….

Here is a snapshot of some of the achievements we are most proud of, since our founding in 1994:

We wouldn't be where we are today without your support - thank you!!

Thank you, from all of us at GWC, for supporting us as well as the land trusts that we serve! None of this would have been possible without your support.

  • The number of land trusts working in Wisconsin has increased from 12 to over 50
  • The membership of Wisconsin’s land trusts has grown to nearly 55,000 members statewide
  • These land trusts have permanently protected well over 280,000 acres of Wisconsin’s natural heritage
  • We have become a respected voice for private land conservation in the state and have earned our reputation as the premier land trust service center in the nation


    Together we protect special places, where youth discover the magic of the outdoors for the first time.

But more meaningful is the resulting impact of those acres conserved, organizations and collaborations established, and contacts made. Together with our land trust members, partners, and supporters, we are helping to protect the special places where we can all go to exercise and recreate, that protect our local food base and agricultural economy, where youth are discovering the magic of the outdoors for the first time, and that are home to our most precious resources and threatened species.


Together we protect our local food base and agricultural economy.

Thank you, from all of us at GWC, for supporting us and the land trusts that we serve! None of this would have been possible without your support. But our work is not finished. Please consider becoming a monthly donor, to help ensure that you and your loved ones will always be able to enjoy all the benefits of Wisconsin’s outdoors.

Land Trusts, Protecting our Food

Local farms are so important; they provide fresh, sustainable food from places that we know.  And, you may not often think about it, but food is one thing that connects us all to the land. The only way that we can ensure that we consistently have access to good, healthy food is by protecting the places where this food comes from.


Protecting Wisconsin farmlands is important to us, and to future generations.

We at GWC know this is important and so does our partner in farmland preservation, American Farmland Trust (AFT). And you know who else knows it? Wisconsin’s land trusts, of course. In fact, one of our member land trusts- Geneva Lake Conservancy (GLC), recently connected with AFT to help protect our farmlands.

The Krusen Grass Farm in East Troy, WI. Photo from

One of the protected organic farms: The Krusen Grass Farm in East Troy, WI. Photo from

In December, AFT transferred three agricultural conservation easements in the East Troy area to GLC. Under their management, these three easements will protect nearly 800 acres of organic farmland, now and forever. We’d like to offer both our congratulations and our thanks to GLC, for this valuable service they are providing to their community and to future generations. We’d also like to celebrate the collaboration between AFT and GLC that made this important opportunity a reality.


The most delicious and nutritious food is local.

It’s wonderful to see more of Wisconsin’s farmlands being protected - it ensures that you and I can have a connection to our food now and in the future. Whether it be through a locally-sourced restaurant, farmer’s market, or CSA, there are endless opportunities to get involved in your local food scene and get a sense for why we are so persistent on this farmland preservation thing. Personally, we can’t wait for our local farmer’s market to open up this spring so we can get our hands on some locally grown fruits and veggies!

Cates Family Farm, Wins!

Agriculture and food production are the foundation of Wisconsin’s social fabric and economy— it’s a more than $50 billion industry. And one that depends on the state’s agricultural and forestry lands. Protecting these lands, and working them in an environmentally sound and sustainable way is key to Wisconsin’s ability to benefit from and enjoy them in the future.

That’s why Gathering Waters has formed strategic partnerships within the state, to garner support and raise awareness about the preservation of working lands.  Partnering for Progress, for instance, is a collaboration between Gathering Waters, Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy & Livestock Farmers, Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership and the Saxon Homestead Farm. Each year, Partnering for Progress holds an old-fashioned Barn Dance & Chautauqua on a historic, working dairy farm to celebrate Wisconsin’s farmers, working lands, and rural heritage.

The annual Barn Dance & Chautauqua celebrates Wisconsin’s farmers, working lands, and rural heritage.

This year, Dick Cates, a friend to Gathering Waters and the Director of the School for Beginning Livestock and Dairy Farmers at the University of Wisconsin (a Partnering for Progress collaborator), has even more to celebrate than another successful Barn Dance & Chautauqua. Indeed, huge congratulations are in order as Dick’s family farm- the Cates Family Farm, was awarded the Sand County Foundation and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Foundation’s 2013 Leopold Conservation Award! The Award honors Wisconsin landowner achievements in voluntary stewardship and management of natural resources. It “honors leaders who love the land and that really captures the heart and soul of the Cates family,” said Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel.

Dick, Kim, their daughter Shannon, and their son Eric. Photo credit: Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

Dick and Kim Cates operate Cates Family Farm, a grass-fed beef enterprise near Spring Green in Iowa County. According to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the farm includes 700 acres of managed grazing land and 200 acres of managed forest. They direct market their pasture-raised steers to grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias and households around southern Wisconsin and the Chicago area.

The Cates’ brand is known and trusted. Photo credit: The Conscientious Omnivore

Since 1987, the Cates have worked to make the family farm more environmentally sound and profitable. They adopted rotational grazing practices, created a managed grazing system, included subdivision fencing and stream crossings for livestock. They encouraged the revitalization of a native oak savannah and care for Lowery Creek, a trout stream that runs through the grazing acreage.

The Cates work hard to protect Lowery Creek, a trout stream that runs through their pastures.

The Cates work hard to protect Lowery Creek, a trout stream that runs through their pastures. Photo credit: Cates Family Farm

On December 8, 2013, at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in the Wisconsin Dells, the Cates Family Farm was presented with the Leopold Conservation Award, which included a $10,000 check and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold. “This has meaning beyond words…. I keep having to pinch myself,” Dick said. “I’m just so overwhelmed by the entire experience and we feel there are so many wonderful family farm producers in Wisconsin who are equally deserving. We’re proud to be able to carry the torch for so many others.” We’re proud of you and your family too, Dick. Congratulations!

FarmAbility: Building Bridges with the Community

Focusing on the belief that a strong community connection with agriculture is integral to our economic health, retaining our heritage and quality of life, and living sustainably, Leelanau Conservancy in Michigan designed and launched FarmAbility in 2009. This program connects the land trust with farmers, leading them down the path to permanent land protection.

FarmAbility leads farmers on a path of permanent land protection.


Farmers enrolled in FarmAbility receive modest income incentives and long-term planning assistance in exchange for keeping their farmland in production for a minimum of 10 years. This program was adapted by neighboring Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in 2013, and between the two land trusts, over 7000 acres of property have been enrolled so far.

Brian Bourdages of Grand Traverse says, “It’s an honor to work with those farmers and farm families that want to utilize various farmland protection methods to ensure our globally unique farmland remains valuable for farming in the future.”

Interested in the ideas and methods behind this program? You can talk with Bourdages and Tom Nelson, the developer of FarmAbility for Leelanau Conservancy, at an ask-an-expert call on November 1st at 11am. Registration is free for our individual and land trust members.  (Not a member?  Join today!)

These calls are a virtual component to our Land Trust Excellence & Advancement Program. Interested in learning more about how LEAP can help you and your land trust? Contact us any time!


Interested in knowing more about farmland protection in Wisconsin? Check out our Working Lands page.

Honoring Our Conservation Leaders

The Prairie Enthusiasts' chair Jack Kussmaul's smile is just the tip of the iceberg on how inspired we felt by these conservation leaders.

The Prairie Enthusiasts’ chair Jack Kussmaul’s smile is just the tip of the iceberg on how inspired we felt by these conservation leaders.


On a beautiful September night, nearly 300 people from across the state gathered for our 11th Annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration to honor some of Wisconsin’s most inspiring conservation leaders. You can view a slideshow of the winners and the event highlights and feel just as inspired as we did by their stories.



Sustaining the Lifeblood of Our Great State: A Thank You to Dan Lemke

“Wisconsin’s forestlands are the lifeblood of our great state. They provide us with clean air and water, vital fish and wildlife habitat, countless recreational opportunities, and a supply of natural resources that boost our economy and create jobs.”


Congressman Mark Green (8th Congressional District) used these eloquent words to describe one of Dan Lemke’s signature land protection projects in Wisconsin.

Dan, Plum Creek’s Senior Land Asset Manager and one of our 2013 winners of the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation, shows not just a true commitment and dedication to growing and preserving Wisconsin’s forested lands but also a flexible and creative drive that makes him stand out in a crowd of eminent conservationists statewide. Some of Dan’s most notable conservation efforts include his work on a Wolf River conservation easement that permanently conserved 18,500 acres of working forest for recreational use and wildlife habitat and a Chippewa Flowage conservation easement that protected more than 18,000 acres of hardwood forest in Northern Wisconsin.

Dan has played a key role in the permanent protection of more than 60,000 acres of Wisconsin timberland.

Dan has played a key role in the permanent protection of more than 60,000 acres of Wisconsin timberland.

As working forests, these acres continue to produce sustainable forest products for the state’s timber industry and provide permanent public access and land protection for critical bird habitat.  These unique conservation easements help to support Wisconsin’s two largest industries while conserving lands that have great value – whether for scenic, wildlife, or recreation.

Dan’s hard work has helped not just the forestry and tourism industry flourish, but transformed the northwoods into the beautiful and cherished gem that defines it today. His continued dedication to helping preserve important and valuable forest lands for generations to come is truly an asset and we thank him for his dedication.

Please join us in celebrating and honoring Dan’s many achievements at our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Ceremony on September 26th at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI.

And the Winners Are…

Congratulations to the winners of the 2013 Land Conservation Leadership Awards! We received a very competitive slate of nominations this year and the results are finally in.  Please join us in recognizing these inspiring leaders:

  • Land Trust of the Year – The Prairie Enthusiasts (with a special nod to Rich Henderson for his inspiring commitment and contributions to the organization) have ensured the perpetuation and recovery of nearly 4,000 acres of native prairie, oak savanna and other associated ecosystems of the Upper Midwest through protection, restoration, management and education. TPE employs a strong grassroots approach throughout multiple states, working openly & cooperatively with private landowners and other private and public conservation groups, to carry out its mission.
  • Policy Maker of the Year – Dick Steffes served WI’s Department of Natural Resources’ Real Estate program in various capacities for 39 years. His leadership and influence helped to preserve over 834,502 acres throughout Wisconsin, secure public recreational access, and ensure best management of the state’s forest resources. His achievements include some of the largest conservation purchases in Wisconsin’s history.
  • Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation – Dan Lemke, Plum Creek’s Senior Land Asset Manager, has played a key role in the permanent protection of more than 60,000 acres of Wisconsin timberland.  As working forests, these acres continue to produce sustainable forest products for the state’s timber industry and provide permanent public access and land protection for critical bird habitat.
  • Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation – Tom Lyon has been dedicated to farmland protection for over 25 years.  His many achievements include a successful partnership with the namesake of this award, Rod Nilsestuen, to establish the Working Lands Initiative and Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program, which have resulted in the protection of thousands of acres of working lands, helping to reduce the trend of rapid farmland losses throughout the state.
  • Conservationists of the Year – Dale Buser & Andrew Struck, were essential in the creation of the Ozaukee Fish Passage Program, which reconnects existing, high quality fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Milwaukee River Watershed and drainage to Lake Michigan and supports public efforts to re-establish and encourage self-sustaining native populations of threatened, special-concern and game fish.
  • Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Achievement Award – Howard & Nancy Mead have been an active and abiding presence in Wisconsin’s conservation community for more than 50 years.  In addition to educating the public about the richness of Wisconsin’s resources and heritage through their ‘Wisconsin Trails’ magazine, they have been instrumental in founding, as well as committed contributors to, key conservation organizations and efforts throughout the state.

Please join us as we honor these deserving conservation leaders at our 11th annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Celebration from 5:30 to 8:30 on Thursday, September 26th at the Monona Terrace in Madison.

Family and fireflies: preserving land in La Crosse County

The donation of a recent conservation agreement between Sue Strehl and Mississippi Valley Conservancy comes from a longing to protect the land that made Sue who she is today.

Sue and her dog at the farm.

Sue and her dog at the farm.

On a 100-acre farm plot in the Town of Shelby, fond memories of family and fireflies were formed for Sue Strehl. This farm has been in Sue’s family for 99 years and was established in 1914 when Sue’s grandparents, the Neidercorns, purchased the first 60 acres. The farm was used for a dairy operation, growing potatoes, and for a short time, growing tobacco.

Sue has many fond memories of the land; in an interview she recalled one night where she took off exploring, “I had hiked to the back 40 one evening [and] I was standing there as it got dark, just enjoying the sounds of nature. As the last traces of the sun’s glow disappeared from the sky, the valley in front of me filled with more fireflies than I had ever seen. I was awestruck.”

Because the land has been with her family for nearly a century Sue says she wants to protect it so that the “future owners of the land… get the same joy from the property as my family has experienced.”

The rolling hills of the Strehl Farm.

The rolling hills of the Strehl Farm.

Mississippi Valley Conservancy is overjoyed that they will be able to help Sue and her family protect this beautiful land from development and mining while still allowing the property to stay under the private ownership of Sue’s Family.

Reflecting on the conservation agreement, Tim Jacobson, the Conservancy’s executive director, said “Caring for the farm in this lasting way is the true embodiment of the ‘land ethic’ that Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about.”

Conserving Local Farms, Food, and Our Heritage

Jim Welsh and Caleb Pourchot of Natural Heritage Land Trust with Dorothy and John Priske.

“We wanted to be proactive and take responsibility for this land.”

That was the sentiment expressed by John and Dorothy Priske, farmers who have lived on, and farmed, their land1 in Columbia County for nearly 30 years. To accomplish their goals of conservation, the Priskes worked with their local land trust, the Natural Heritage Land Trust, which provides conservation assistance in Dane County and the surrounding region.

But even just a few years ago, the Priskes, as well as 15 other farmers in Wisconsin would not have been able to conserve their farm like this because there wasn’t a state farmland protection program.

Working lands working for their communities

Farms like the Priske’s have been protected across Wisconsin with support from their local land trust and Wisconsin’s farmland protection program – a program
fought for by Gathering Waters Conservancy and our partners.

As with other farmland protection programs across the country, Wisconsin’s Purchase of Conservation Easements (PACE) program allows farmers to receive funding for conserving their land while still retaining ownership and management decisions. The land continues to stay on the tax rolls as well, and farmers are free to sell, bequeath, lease, and transfer the land, subject to the conservation agreement.

In addition to the PACE program, funding for this project was also provided by the USDA Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, The Conservation Fund, and the members of Natural Heritage Land Trust. PACE-funded land protection projects are intended to be anchors in areas that have been designated locally for farmland protection.

The Priskes are one such anchor, known throughout the community for their commitment to farming and sustainability.

Community anchors preserving local foods

According to Caleb Pourchot, Natural Heritage Land Trust’s conservation specialist, “Continuous improvement in the health of their land is a passion for the Priskes. Each new conservation practice they incorporate on the farm led them to another.

“After restoring wetlands, controlling runoff from the farm, leaving some pastures ungrazed to benefit nesting grassland birds, and installing a 50-kilowatt wind turbine that powers the entire farm, deciding to work with the local land trust to place a conservation easement on the farm to protect it in perpetuity was a logical next step.”

Farmland and our farming economy are central to many Wisconsin communities. Gathering Waters Conservancy, working with land trusts, the business community, agricultural organizations and farmers, and countless individuals, continues to work to enhance and grow the state’s farmland protection program.

During a challenging State budget cycle, your financial support of and participation in trainings, advocacy work, and educational programs will be very important in the coming year as we work to breathe new life into this farm-friendly program that serves Wisconsin’s agricultural heritage and economy. Together, one farm at a time, we’re bringing local food and our farm economy closer to long-term sustainability.

1John and Dorothy Priske own and operate Fountain Prairie Farms, a 277-acre grass-based farm in Columbia County where they raise Scottish Highland cattle. Known throughout the region for their quality meat, the Priskes are fixtures at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and also sell their meats to local restaurants. For a complete listing of restaurants where their beef is served, please visit

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 Conservancy • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 • [email protected]