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Team Knowles-Nelson Updates: Gearing up for the Supreme Court

Team Knowles-Nelson previews the separation of powers lawsuit. And check out our new Knowles- Nelson merch!

Knowles-Nelson Gets Its Day in Court

Mark your calendars! The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the highly anticipated Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program lawsuit on Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 at 9:30am.

What to Know
In October 2023, Governor Evers and the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the WI legislature, arguing that the Joint Finance Committee’s (JFC) practice of arbitrarily vetoing Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grant approvals through anonymous objections violates the separation of powers outlined in the WI constitution. The JFC’s current practice allows for a single anonymous committee member to halt any grant for any reason, essentially giving an unchecked veto authority to any anonymous member of the committee.

Gathering Waters intervened in the case as a co-plaintiff. Our member land trusts have frequently had their grants sabotaged by arbitrary, anonymous objections. Wisconsin land trusts rely on the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program to support land conservation, and the broken JFC review process undermines land trusts’ ability to protect the places that make Wisconsin special for future generations. Therefore, we chose to intervene in the case in order to tell the Knowles-Nelson story and to add our own legal arguments to those being presented by the DOJ.

A number of organizations have also filed amicus, or friend of the court, briefs supporting the DOJ and Gathering Waters. They include Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Law Forward, and the State Democracy Research Initiative. We’re proud to be part of this coalition fighting for fair and transparent government.

What’s at Stake
The outcome of this case could have a significant impact on the future of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and it will determine the balance of power between the legislature and the executive branch regarding environmental protection efforts in Wisconsin. If the court agrees with the DOJ’s arguments, the broken JFC review process could be significantly reformed or eliminated entirely, marking a major step forward for conservation efforts in WI. Arbitrary objections to worthy conservation projects have bogged down Knowles-Nelson for years. Grantees are left with little or no information about why their grants were blocked, no clear path to resolve those objections, and no clear timeline to know if or when their grant will receive a hearing or a vote. 

No matter how the court rules, the case is a crucial opportunity to shine a light on the broken review process and its impacts on conservation.

  • Find resources and follow along: Head over to KnowlesNelson.org for resources and updates about the case. Check back frequently: we’ll keep this page updated as new developments unfold.
  • Tune in for oral arguments: Listen to the live stream of oral arguments set for April 17th, 2024 at 9:30am.
  • Learn more about Gathering Waters’ position: Read our affidavit, which describes, in detail, how the broken review process has limited land trusts’ ability to protect the places that make WI special.

Sharing the Knowles-Nelson Story

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Team Knowles-Nelson online store! Whether you’re hitting the trails or relaxing on the water, sporting your Team Knowles-Nelson gear is an easy and impactful way to raise awareness for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and its vital role in shaping Wisconsin’s outdoor spaces. Visit our online store HERE.

We’re highlighting Knowles-Nelson projects on Facebook and Instagram and we want to hear about your favorite. Every Knowles-Nelson win showcases the power of protecting WI’s land, water, and natural spaces. Share a few sentences and a photo of your favorite place made possible through Knowles-Nelson so we can shine the spotlight on it.


Knowles-Nelson Around Wisconsin

ASHLAND | Joint Finance Committee voted to deny the City of Ashland $1.02 million in Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds for improvements to the Kreher Park boat launch, citing lack of local buy-in. Read more…

CHIPPEWA | The McCann Creek Conservation Area project marks a new chapter of collaboration between Landmark Conservancy and Pheasants Forever, ensuring a lasting impact in northern Wisconsin. Read more…

DOOR | The Town of Clay Banks opposed Door County Land Trust’s newest nature preserve, citing that it’s inconsistent and incompatible with the town’s comprehensive land use plan. Read more…

FOREST, ONEIDA, LANGLADE | Texas-based group, American Stewards of Liberty (ASL), has been working to influence local officials in Forest, Langlade, and Oneida counties and block land conservation efforts. Read more…

LANGLADE | Developments at the City of Antigo’s Lakeside Park will be supported by funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Read more…

– Charlie, Morgan, and all your advocates at Gathering Waters

Featured image by Andrew Flenniken, 2021.

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