Group repairing a walkway over a creek


Do you love Wisconsin's land and water? Then Team Knowles Nelson is for you!

We are made up of thousands of individuals and dozens of organizations committed to ensuring that the state of Wisconsin funds vital land and water conservation efforts. Together, we delivered thousands of messages and phone calls to legislators’ offices during the 2019 budget debates. We helped to secure a two-year extension of the Stewardship Program. Now we have our sights set on a 10-year authorization of the program and restoring funding cuts that were made over the last decade.

So what does Team Knowles Nelson do? We advocate for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, because it’s Wisconsin’s best land and water conservation program. We research land and water conservation around the state. We promote the good work that nonprofits and local governments do with Stewardship funds. We talk to legislators, the governor, and our friends and neighbors about the importance of caring for Wisconsin’s land and water.

What happens when you join Team Knowles Nelson? We’ll keep you updated on our work and let you know when it’s time to speak up for the Stewardship Program. We make it easy to connect with your legislators at the right time and with the right message. Every single voice counts. Together, we’ll make sure that the state of Wisconsin provides the funding we need to protect Wisconsin’s land, water, and wildlife.

Team Knowles Nelson calls for a 10-year authorization of Stewardship

We’re asking Governor Evers to include 10 years of funding for Knowles-Nelson in the 2021 state budget and to restore funding cuts.


Dear Governor Evers:

We write to express our support for the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship Program (KNSP). As a coalition of more than 50 groups representing environmental conservation, business interests, local governments, hunting, fishing, forestry, and recreation, we recognize the tremendous positive impact that the Stewardship Program has on our health, our economy, and our priceless Wisconsin landscapes.

We support a 10-year reauthorization of the Stewardship Program, and we respectfully urge you to restore the program’s funding in order to reverse the trend of cuts that have significantly reduced the buying power of the KNSP over the past decade.

The KNSP was created in 1989 to preserve valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and fisheries, expand opportunities for outdoor recreation, and support our timber and tourism industries.

By any measure, the Stewardship Program has been a resounding success. Because of the KNSP, the Wisconsin DNR, local governments and nonprofit conservation organizations have received state funds to purchase public land or easements for conservation, while also providing support for the upkeep and maintenance of our waterways, parks, forests, and trail systems.

Protected land in Wisconsin works for everyone’s benefit. Forests sequester carbon and clean our air. Wetlands filter our water and buffer against floods. These benefits can be quantified, and a conservative estimate of the value of “natural infrastructure” on lands protected by nonprofit conservation organizations — a small portion of all land protected by KNSP funds — is $436,000,000 per year.

Over three decades, the state of Wisconsin has invested approximately $1.3 billion in the KNSP. And yet, we continue to lag behind our neighbors Michigan and Minnesota in the amount of land that we protect and the financial resources we allocate to developing outdoor amenities. The total investment in KNSP also represents a small fraction of the state’s investments in traditional infrastructure projects. For example, the state spends an average of $1.6 billion per year on the state trunk highway system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that access to parks and open space — especially places close to home — is vital for the physical and mental health of Wisconsin residents. Over the history of the KNSP, more than 1,000 grants have been made to local governments to support green space purchases in our cities and towns as well as funding the trails and park amenities that help Wisconsinites get out and enjoy nature. But, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all Wisconsin residents have convenient access to parks and open space. For example, more than 50,000 Milwaukee residents do not live within a 10 minute walk of a park, and in many smaller metro areas like Racine or Wisconsin Rapids, more than a third of residents do not live within walking distance of a park.

Time spent in nature increases one’s sense of well-being, improves one’s attention span, and decreases feelings of anxiety and depression. Regular exercise is one of the best treatments for chronic health conditions like obesity and high blood pressure, and access to open space close to home is a key factor in encouraging healthy exercise habits.

If the KNSP is not renewed as part of the 2021 state budget, we will lose Wisconsin’s best source of funding for land and water protection as well as funding for the development and maintenance of community parks and open spaces.

Planning and executing Stewardship projects can take years. Therefore, landowners, donors, nonprofits, and local governments need certainty about the long-term future of the program in order for projects to be as strategic and successful as possible. That’s why we’re asking for a 10-year authorization of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program as had been the tradition since the program’s inception in 1989.

Polling demonstrates near universal public support for the KNSP, even in times of economic turmoil. Past surveys have shown that 93 percent of Wisconsin voters want to see the KNSP reauthorized. This includes 89% of Republicans, 90% of Independents, and 100% of Democrats.

Please support land and water conservation in Wisconsin by including in your budget a 10-year reauthorization of the KNSP and restoring funding that has been cut. We look forward to advocating for Stewardship with our legislators and speaking publicly about the many benefits that the program will provide us for decades to come.


Team Knowles Nelson

Hiker overlooking the landscape

About the
Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

For 30 years, the Stewardship Program has protected Wisconsin’s land, water, and wildlife.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is a tremendously successful environmental conservation program that protects our lakes and streams, conserves working forests, secures critical wildlife habitats, and provides countless opportunities for outdoor recreation both close to home and across Wisconsin.

But most people have never heard of Knowles-Nelson. The program works behind the scenes to make it possible for conservation organizations and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to purchase land, to build trails, to maintain our parks and boating facilities, and to take care of our shorelines. The program is up for renewal in 2021, and our legislators need to know that caring for Wisconsin’s land and water is a top priority.

Named after two former Wisconsin governors — Warren Knowles, a Republican, and Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat — the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program honors Wisconsin’s bipartisan commitment to land and water protection.

Since its inception in 1989, Republicans and Democrats across the state have championed the program because our land, water, and wildlife don’t have political affiliations. We all want Wisconsin to be a healthy, thriving place to live, work, and play. According to recent polls, 9 out of 10 Wisconsinites support the Stewardship Program!

The governor and the legislature must renew the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in the 2021 state budget or we’ll lose this vital source of funding. We’re asking them to reauthorize the program for 10 years and to restore funding that has been cut from the program over the last decade.

Conservation Hike

Research & resources

In-depth analyses of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

Knowles-Nelson grants work behind the scenes to protect public lands and build the amenities that help us all enjoy nature both close to home and far away. Too often, it’s hard to see the cumulative impact of the Stewardship Program. That’s where our research comes in. We look at the big picture of Wisconsin’s investments in land and water conservation, and we bring that big picture to life with detailed examples of Knowles-Nelson projects from around the state. The research shows how land and water conservation is a key investment in green infrastructure, the natural systems that clean our air and water, nourish our souls, and provide wildlife habitat. We quantify the services provided by nature so that policymakers can understand the enormous long-term value of investing in Wisconsin’s land and water. And we look at how time spent in nature improves our mental and physical health.

Now is the Time to Act

Please, speak up now for Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The governor and state legislators must act to renew and strengthen the program or it will soon expire. Design personalized postcards that show your love of Wisconsin’s land and water, and we’ll print and mail them to the governor and your legislators. It’s free, and it’s more important than ever to let our elected officials know that people all across our state are committed to caring for our land, water, and wildlife. When you write your legislators, we’ll also sign you up for Team Knowles-Nelson so that you can receive updates on our work and alerts that let you know how to speak up for Stewardship at the right time, with the right messages, directed to the right people.

grants to support the Ice Age Trail
Wisconsin acres protected by Knowles-Nelson
$350 Million
in grants to nonprofits and local governments
of Wisconsin land is conserved
Grants to support local parks, trails and campgrounds
$2 billion
annual economic value of Knowles-Nelson lands
grants to support Wisconsin Boating facilities
annual cost per Wisconsin resident
$24 Billion
forestry industry supported

Thanks! We'll keep you in the loop about Team Knowles Nelson.