Knowles – Nelson Stewardship Program

Named after two former Wisconsin governors, Warren Knowles, a Republican, and Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program honors Wisconsin’s historic commitment to land and water protection and outdoor recreation. If there’s a natural place in Wisconsin that is special to you, chances are the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has made it better.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides funds for cities, counties, non-profit groups, and the state to purchase land for conservation, outdoor recreation and trails. It funds essential upkeep and maintenance of our waterways, parks, forests, and trails. The hiking, biking, snowmobile and ATV trails across the state owe their existence to the program. Local governments and citizen conservation organizations also receive funds to purchase land for conservation and protect our land, lakes, rivers and streams. Stewardship has funded projects in every single county in Wisconsin.

silohuette of geese family swimming past handlebars
The Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee used to be an abandoned industrial brownfield. With the help of Stewardship Program funds it now is full of life and good paying 13,000 jobs.

How is the Program Funded?

The Stewardship Program is funded using general obligation bonds, which, like a home mortgage, requires the state to pay principal and interest over time for an investment that will last for generations. Debt service for Stewardship Program borrowing accounts for less than 0.3% of Wisconsin’s state budget, and works out to a little more than $0.30 per Wisconsinite per week or approximately $15 per resident per year. The state legislature has historically reauthorized the program for ten year periods. It began at $25 million a year in funding, eventually it reached a high of $86 million. On June 11th, 2019 the legislature reauthorized the program for two years at $33 million per year. 

What is next for Stewardship?

With the program authorized until 2022, we have time to work with our coalition of partners from other conservation, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation groups to increase funding for the program, and reauthorize it for a longer period of time. On January 15, 2020, Wisconsin Representatives Amy Loudenbeck from Clinton, and Joel Kitchens from Sturgeon Bay, proposed Assembly Bill 855 to reauthorize the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The bill would extend funding for land and water conservation in Wisconsin for eight years, ensuring funding for land and water conservation until 2030. 

Ask: Restore increased funding for the Knowles – Nelson Stewardship Program and and reauthorize it until 2032.