A group of people on a hike listening to a guide explain something.

Knowles-Nelson: how conservation gets done

Wisconsin has protected 600,000 acres and improved more than 1,000 parks, trails, and waterways with funds from the Stewardship Program.

What do your neighborhood park, your favorite hiking trail, and the vast forests Up North all have in common? The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides funds to protect and care for all of them!

Since 1989, Knowles-Nelson grants have helped land trusts and other nonprofits, local governments, and the state of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources purchase land for conservation and build the amenities that help us get out and enjoy those lands: trails, campgrounds, boat launches, picnic shelters, and more.

The numbers are impressive: 600,000 acres protected, $1.3 billion invested in our land and water, more than 1,000 grants to parks and natural areas close to home.

But there’s so much more work yet to be done.

About 17% of land in Wisconsin is protected in some way. We protect less land than our neighbors Michigan and Minnesota, and we’re nowhere near the goal of protecting at least 30% of our land, which scientists say we must do in order to ensure our land and water can be resilient as the climate changes.

Here, we invite you to explore some of the amazing work that Knowles-Nelson grants have made possible. Dig in, get inspired, and then take action  by speaking up and letting your elected officials know how important Wisconsin’s land and water are to you.

Where Stewardship dollars are spent

No matter where you live in Wisconsin, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has worked to make your community a healthier place to live and play. In fact, more than 99% of Wisconsin residents live within five miles of a Stewardship investment. This map shows where Knowles-Nelson investments have been made over time. Whether it’s protecting the park in your backyard, a nature preserve down the road, or a wetland across the state, the Stewardship Program protects nature so that nature can protect us.

Two deer standing alert in the snow at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Knowles-Nelson Research

We dive into the Stewardship Program and the economics of conservation in Wisconsin

For 30 years, Knowles-Nelson has been helping Wisconsinites care for the land and water that we love. But how does the program work? How do we determine if the environmental good is worth the economic cost? What are the specific benefits of investing in land and water conservation?

We’ve asked the big questions about Knowles-Nelson so that you can go beyond the headlines to really understand how protecting Wisconsin’s land and water benefits us all. We picked four big topics through which we tell the story of Knowles-Nelson in Wisconsin: quantifying the economic value of protected lands; comparing environmental conservation to other infrastructure investments; exploring the importance of county forests; and looking at the mental and physical health benefits of time spent in nature. Pull up a chair, dive in, and become an expert on environmental conservation in Wisconsin.

The view from Ferry Bluff looking over the Wisconsin River.

Conservation Projects

A look at Knowles-Nelson projects in action

Nearly every Knowles-Nelson project is a story of collaboration, commitment, and love for the places that make Wisconsin special. Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grants are awarded as matching grants, meaning that the money the state invests in a project is matched dollar-for-dollar with money raised by nonprofits or local governments. Protecting a cherished landscape, building a new trail, or adding amenities to parks takes dedication, time, and the focused work of an entire team. Explore our collection of Knowles-Nelson projects to learn about some of the specific ways that Stewardship dollars have been invested in Wisconsin.

of Wisconsinites live within 5 miles of a Knowles-Nelson Project
1200 grants
support local parks, trails, and waterways
$18 billion
spent every year on outdoor recreation in WI
$1.2 Billion
invested in Wisconsin Lands
Wisconsin Acres Protected by Knowles-Nelson
annual return on every Knowles-Nelson acre
million Wisconsin County Forest acres
acres protected by non-profit land trusts
amount of Wisconsin land we need to conserve
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