Archived entries for Wisconsin Land Trusts

Update: State Budget and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

The end is in sight for Wisconsin’s state budget process, with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance scheduled to take a final round of votes in early September. All indications from the Legislature point to no further changes being made to funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. The Stewardship Program is currently funded at $33 million per year, with $7 million available for nonprofit matching grants.

Photo: Brant Erickson

Despite the fact that the Stewardship Program has moved through the Joint Finance Committee without changes or cuts, the land trust community must remain vigilant during the remaining legislative session. As we shared earlier in 2017, companion Bills AB338/SB270 were introduced back in May by Rep. August and Sen. Nass. These bills would essentially end crucial parts of the Stewardship Program through a convoluted process—utilizing program funding to purchase lands that are already owned by the state’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL). The revenue generated from this sale is proposed to create a scholarship fund at the UW.

We have vocally opposed the bills since prior to their introduction earlier this year, and we sent a letter to all legislative offices in opposition, requesting that legislators not sign on as co-sponsors. Additionally, we sent action alerts out to our members and spent a couple of days in the Capitol asking Representatives and Senators not to sign on to the bills as a co-sponsor. These advocacy efforts appear to be paying off, as the number of co-sponsors on the bills was fairly small, 11 in the Assembly, 5 in the Senate. The status of these bills will need to be monitored until the end of the session, and pressure against them must be maintained.

Driftless Area Land Conservancy named Land Trust of the Year

Land Trust of the Year Award – Driftless Area Land Conservancy is a nationally accredited land trust that has protected over 7,000 acres of unique natural and agricultural landscapes in southwest Wisconsin. Through the strong leadership of their board and the tireless efforts of their staff, the Conservancy has grown into an invaluable local asset: working to protect the natural resources of their region and providing public access, advocacy, and outdoor education programming in communities across their 5-county service area.

The Driftless Area Land Conservancy organizes countless educational programs, field trips, special events, training opportunities, and community conservation projects each year.

Under the leadership of their Executive Director Dave Clutter, the Conservancy is actively developing an ambitious plan to increase public access through the Driftless Area Trail– a project that would connect three state parks and other state lands, creating  a nearly 50-mile hiking loop. The Trail has real potential to boost tourism and economic development in the region.

Dave Clutter, Executive Director of DALC at Erikson Conservation Area

While doing this important work, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy team has developed a reputation for “being a thoughtful, forward thinking, strategic and passionate nonprofit in Southwestern Wisconsin,” according to Paul Ohlrogge with UW Extension. They also excel at fostering collaboration through efforts like the Lowry Creek Partnership near Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Taliesin, coordinating the Southwest Wisconsin Grasslands and Stream Conservation partnership, and facilitating multi-partner ecological restoration activities in the region.

The Conservancy has recently stepped up as an advocate for the unique landscape in the Driftless, organizing a coalition of community members opposed new transmission line infrastructure, which threatens to impact the scenic beauty and natural resources in the region.

Gathering Waters is thrilled to present the Land Trust of the Year Award to the Driftless Area Land Conservancy on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.


Terry & DiAnne Hatch receive Land Legacy Award

Land Legacy Award – Terry & DiAnne Hatch are Iron County landowners whose generous support of land conservation in Wisconsin has been deeply impactful. Their contributions have created a legacy of protected land throughout the state and have bolstered advocacy efforts to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in public conservation funding through Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

Terry served for several years on the Gathering Waters Board of Directors, and he and DiAnne have long supported conservation organizations ranging from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters to the Northwoods Land Trust.

While serving for seven years on Gathering Waters’ Board of Directors, Terry, often accompanied by DiAnne, made countless trips from his home in Illinois to meetings in Wisconsin. The Hatches’ commitment of time and energy has been matched only by their generous donations. As one of the most significant contributors in Gathering Waters’ nearly 25-year history, “the impact of their gift can be seen and felt in the growth and strength of Gathering Waters’ work, and reverberates statewide through enhanced land trust excellence and the lasting protection of some of Wisconsin’s most special places,” said Sara DeKok, former Associate Director at Gathering Waters.

In addition to financial support, Terry and DiAnne have demonstrated their conservation ethic through the permanent protection of their land in northern Wisconsin, donating a conservation easement that is held by the Northwoods Land Trust.

Generous, yet humble, thoughtful and measured, Terry and DiAnne have donated time, energy, resources, land, and immeasurable support to Wisconsin land conservation.

Gathering Waters is thrilled to present Terry and DiAnne Hatch with the Land Legacy Award on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.


Dan Wisniewski receives Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Stewardship Award

Harold “Bud” Jordahl Lifetime Stewardship Award—Dan Wisniewski of Middleton has spent decades influencing public policy to benefit land and water conservation in Wisconsin. He has increased collaboration among conservation groups and served as a dedicated board member with Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) for twelve years.

NWLT holds over 80 conservation easements protecting more than 11,000 acres, including 27 miles of lake frontage and 33 miles of river frontage.  Through his 30 years of volunteering at the local, state, and national levels with Trout Unlimited (TU), Dan has played a critical role in securing funding for stream restoration and improved public access while fostering cooperation among TU, land trusts, and government agencies.

In his distinguished career in state and local government, Dan was committed to working for progressive conservation policies and funding.  As Secretary of the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, he initiated a program for identifying quality natural area lands that eventually led to the sale of about 12,000 acres to DNR. He also played a key role in advocating for the 65,000 acre Wild Rivers Legacy Forest in northeast Wisconsin and has been a strong supporter of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

For seven years, Dan has served as a citizen member of the Dane County Parks Commission, helping to direct one of the best local conservation programs in the country in collaboration with land trusts like Natural Heritage Land Trust and The Prairie Enthusiasts, as well as other conservation groups like TU; helping to secure Stewardship funding.

Dan also served as a board member of Pheasant Branch Conservancy and is helping to build a Dane County Parks Endowment, to better support the efforts of several thousand county park volunteers. He believes citizen volunteers can and must engage in issues vital to protecting our natural resources.

Those who have worked with him describe his passion for conservation and his savvy approach to fundraising and public policy advocacy. “[He] has spent years—decades—working steadily and effectively on a variety of levels to conserve lands and waters and provide the public with access to them.  His efforts have helped his communities, his state, and the nation to accomplish those goals.” —John (Duke) Welter, Trout Unlimited



Jim Welsh named Conservationist of the Year

Conservationist of the Year – Jim Welsh, Executive Director of the Natural Heritage Land Trust (NHLT), has been instrumental in the protection of many of the most loved and valued places in south central Wisconsin. During Jim’s successful tenure over the past 15 years, NHLT has achieved national accreditation and now has conserved over 10,000 acres of farms, forests, prairies, and wetlands in and around Dane County.

Under Jim’s leadership, NHLT has preserved land in rural, agricultural, and urban environments, including  historical areas like John Muir’s original family farm in Marquette County. Jim, hailed by many as a thoughtful and committed leader, is passionate that everyone deserves access to nature and open spaces.  He has worked with community members to support important conservation education initiatives, including expanding the forest at Lakeview Elementary School, and protecting land for use by low-income communities as gardens for food production.


One of Jim’s nominators, Michael Foy, summed up his qualifications this way: “Jim is absolutely the model of an effective modern conservationist, and everything we could hope for in a land protection partner. His enthusiasm to try new approaches, professionalism, quiet good humor, realism, and dedication to land protection makes him a pleasure to work with.”

For these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to present Jim Welsh with the Conservationist of the Year Award on September 21, 2017 at Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website.


More Land Trust Survey Results: Priorities for training and collaboration

This is Part 3 of 3 in a series of blog posts sharing Wisconsin land trusts’ responses to our April 2017 survey. (See Part 1 for conservation priorities and resources for land acquisition and management and Part 2 for accomplishments and visions for the future.)

When asked to rate land trust training needs over the next 5 years (as high, medium, or low priority, or not a priority), the five most frequently selected as high priorities were:

  • Public understanding of land trust values
  • Cultivating major donors
  • Growing & sustaining members/donors
  • Reaching new audiences
  •  Engaging youth

However, many other training topics are important to land trusts as well. When considering both high and medium ratings, at least 75% of respondents selected 12 of the 21 response options provided. And, when accounting for any priority (high, medium, or low) at least 85% selected 16 of the 21 topics.

Training Needs

By category, the most high priority ratings were given to community engagement, followed by fundraising, governance, and land protection and stewardship. However, when including both high and medium priority ratings, governance topics were most frequently selected.

When asked to rate the expected importance of certain issues and opportunities over the next 5 years—in order to help Gathering Waters prioritize efforts to convene discussion or collaboration— the five most frequently selected as high priorities were:

  • Public awareness/support of land conservation
  • The future of conservation funding
  • Water quality protection
  • Forest conservation/ management
  • Invasive species control

When considering both high and medium ratings, 60% of the 33 respondents selected 10 of the 13 issues.

Issues and Opportunities


What do these survey results mean for the Wisconsin land trust community and Gathering Waters?

Survey responses, along with the proposals submitted to our recent open call for innovative projects, input from the Land Trust Council, and feedback from past trainings will inform our strategic planning. Some key reoccurring themes across these sources include:

  • Engaging the community and fostering public understanding of the value of land trust work
  • Fundraising strategies and practices
  • Best practices in nonprofit governance (e.g., finances, personnel management, strategic planning)
  • Best practices in conservation easement programs, from the basics to managing monitoring and handling challenges
  • GIS capacity and skills, including integrating mobile data collection into a central system

As we move forward with strategic planning and prioritizing our services, we will be actively exploring a range of methods and formats to address these and other topics (e.g., training workshops, Ask an Expert calls, Land Trust Retreats) as well as identifying partners and collaborative ways to tap into new sources of support.

Family donates conservation easement at Rowan Creek State Fishery Area

The following post was written by our wonderful member Natural Heritage Land Trust.


Good news that yesterday a family with Madison roots permanently protected 165 acres of their beloved land through a voluntary conservation easement donated to Natural Heritage Land Trust.

The family’s land along Rowan Creek just west of Poynette in Columbia County boasts some remarkable views over the Rowan Creek valley and is being lovingly restored by the family.

Many threatened and endangered species have been found on the property, including slender glass lizard, massasauga rattlesnake, and ornate box turtle. The conservation easement ensures that the land will remain an undeveloped refuge for these and other animals and plants in perpetuity.

The property and its surrounding landscape is also culturally very rich, with a long history of use by Native Americans and farmers of European descent. And while it seems unbelievable, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival, Sound Storm, featuring the Grateful Dead, was held in a natural amphitheater on the property in 1970. Read the Wisconsin Historical Society’s article here.

We honor Telle Zoller for having the vision to protect this special place, forever. And, we thank the supporters of Natural Heritage Land Trust for making this project possible.

Yours in Conservation,

Jim Welsh
Executive Director

Natural Heritage Land Trust

More Land Trust Survey Results: Successes and Looking Toward the Future

Wisconsin land trusts have a lot to be proud of—and big plans for the future.

In this Part 2 of “The Results Are In,” we share what Wisconsin land trusts said, in response to our April survey, about their successes, needs, and visions for the future. (See Part 1 for conservation priorities and resources for land acquisition and management.)

What recent accomplishment is your land trust most proud of?

  • Land protection, including working with landowners to protect many acres of lakeshore, wetlands, farmland, wildlife habitat, community forest, and special places throughout the state
  • Restoration of shoreline, wetlands, prairie, and pollinator habitat
  • Programming that provides quality education for youth and the broader community
  • Partnerships, such as working with Boy Scouts on trails, community collaboration to protect farmland for immigrant farmers
  • Organizational successes, like financial stability, developing a strategic plan, working through a tough issue, achieving accreditation, and receiving recognition as Land Trust of the Year by Gathering Waters

Besides adequate funding, what is the single greatest obstacle to accomplishing your mission?

 Capacity was the most frequent response, including:

  • The need for more staff, and more diverse board members to carry on with the organization
  • The challenge of effectively engaging and managing volunteers, and of moving from an all-volunteer to staffed organization
  • The difficulty of prioritizing conservation challenges and opportunities to have the greatest impact, and doing so at a scale that makes a difference
  • Finding long-term, committed donors and raising annual operations support

Also on the list of obstacles was a lack of public awareness and political will—from a “failure [of the public] to understand what we do and the importance of our mission to the quality of life in our region” to a “lack of commitment to land conservation” among elected officials.

Other responses called out the need for available land, willing landowners, and community buy-in.

What do you think your land trust will look like in 10 years?

  • Many survey responses included aspirations to increase land trust staff and board capacity, and the scale and scope of work.
  • Land acquisition and easements are expected to continue as a focus, with several land trusts anticipating expansion of their service areas.
  • Others expect to see a shift from land acquisition to stewardship as a focus, and building capacity in restoration and community engagement. They also recognize the need to “stay ahead” with current easements with succession to new land owners.
  • Program areas that land trusts want to continue to build are landowner services, advocacy, conservation education. They would like to be seen as conservation leadersas community organizations, not only an environmental ones.
  • Several, particularly those working on a relatively local scale, envision maintaining their current scope, ensuring that lake shores, natural areas, and farmland continue to be protected.
  • While there is concern about funding, particularly with uncertainty about state and federal support, some land trusts are looking to build endowments for staffing and operations through bequests.
  • Respondents also indicated they would expand partnerships, and anticipate joining forces locally or regionally with other land trusts in mergers. They noted the need to plan for leadership transitions.
  • They also anticipate increased residential pressure as well as increased demand for outdoor access. As one respondent put it:

I believe that public support for land trusts will grow as will the public’s demand to have more land trust land open to the public for recreation. This will have to be balanced against the need for quieter preserves for wildlife habitat and contemplative study.

How can land trusts connect the dots from successes to obstacles to these visions for the future? 

Up next: Wisconsin land trusts’ priorities for training and collaboration.

The Results Are In – A Survey of Wisconsin Land Trusts

In April 2017, Gathering Waters surveyed member land trusts about their current priorities and activities, as well as what they see as needs and opportunities for the future. Representatives of 37 out of 44 land trusts completed the online survey – an 84% response rate!

Following are some highlights of what land trusts say about their conservation priorities, resources they use to determine those priorities, and types of funding for their land acquisition and management activities.

Conservation priorities

  • The top five primary priorities are: wetlands, wildlife areas, river & stream corridors, forests, and habitats of rare or endangered species.
  • Wetlands and watersheds/water quality topped the overall priorities (including both primary and secondary ratings), followed closely by open space, wildlife areas, river & stream corridors, and forests.

Resources used to determine land trust conservation priorities

  • Land trusts’ own strategic plans are an essential guide for conservation priority setting.
  • Wisconsin DNR and federal agency priorities are also important in priority-setting for many land trusts.

Project financing

Within the categories of federal, state, local, and private funding, land trusts listed a variety of programs and donors they leverage to finance acquisitions and land management.

  • Private funding is the type of funding source they tap the most often.
  • State conservation programs are also critical funding sources, with the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program mentioned specifically by 75% of those land trusts that finance projects with state funding.

In a future blog post, we will share the responses to questions about Wisconsin land trusts’ needs and their vision for the future.

This survey will also inform Gathering Waters’ strategic plan and help us prioritize our programming to support a strong Wisconsin land trust community.

Tree Farmer Permanently Protects Land on Arbor Day

Kann famliy celebrating the permanent protection of their beautiful tree farm.

The following press release was written by our land trust member Mississippi Valley Conservancy 

An award-winning local tree farmer is celebrating Arbor Day Friday by signing a land protection agreement with Mississippi Valley Conservancy.

Gerald Kann of La Crosse who was named north central region Outstanding Tree Farmer of the year in 2016 by the American Tree Farm System, is permanently protecting his 114-acre Monroe County tree farm with a conservation easement.

Kann, who also received recognition in 2014 as Wisconsin Outstanding Tree farmer of the Year, said it was a nice coincidence to be closing on the agreement on a day set aside to celebrate the role of trees in our lives.

From 1974 through 2016, the Kann family, including wife Charlotte and sons Kurt and Karl, planted over 45,200 trees on their property. For 25 years, the tree farm was operated as a “choose-and-cut” Christmas tree farm.

“The Kann Property truly demonstrates exceptional forest stewardship,” said Carol Abrahamzon, executive director for the conservancy. “Their dedication to caring for the land is apparent in both the hours they’ve spent taking care of the property and also in the sheer numbers of trees planted.”

A conservation easement is a partnership between a land trust and a conservation-minded landowner. The conservation easement ensures that the Kann tree farm cannot, at any point in the future and regardless of ownership, be converted to a residential subdivision or cornfield, but remain as a refuge for area wildlife.

Abbie Church, MVC conservation director, said that wildlife observed over the years by the owners include bobcat, fisher, black bear and badger. Her most recent visit to the property included serenades of spring frogs, including spring peepers, chorus frogs, and wood frogs, all of which can be heard right from the porch of the log cabin on the property. Winter hikes on the on the property provide an abundance of wildlife tracks, the forest resources providing food and cover throughout the year.

The citation for the Wisconsin award says that the winning tree farmer “must exhibit the most exceptional forest stewardship to protect and improve forest health, wildlife habitat, clean water and sustainable wood supplies, and must promote this stewardship within their communities.”

Church said that meshes with the Conservancy’s focus to “conserve the forests, prairies, wetlands, streams, and farms that enrich our communities for the health and well-being of current and future generations.”

Gathering Waters • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 •