Gov. Evers tours Spring Green Preserve, discusses need for Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funding renewal

Taylor Scott, Managing Editor

Gov. Tony Evers toured the Spring Green Nature Preserve April 19, to see how the location had benefited from Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grants.

During his visit, Evers took a brief hike with Wisconsin Nature Conservancy officials, and was able to explore the recently prescribed burned portions of the preserve, while learning about the unique plants, insects and animals that call the area home.

Evers also heard about research being done at the site on the effect of climate change on insect populations.

Additionally, Evers visited natural areas in other parts of the state that had received Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grants this week. Photo by Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

As part of his Badger Bounceback initiative, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers toured the Spring Green Preserve State Natural Area (SNA) on April 19. The main focus of the trip was to highlight Evers’ 2021-23 biennial budget request to renew funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program while touring a site that has benefited from the funding in the past.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Wisconsin Legislature created the Stewardship fund in 1989 to preserve valuable wildlife habitat and natural areas, protect water quality and fisheries, and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation.

In 1993, the Stewardship Program was renamed the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship program after two of Wisconsin’s revered conservation leaders, Warren Knowles (governor 1965-1971) and Gaylord Nelson (governor 1959-1963, U.S. Senator 1964-1981).

Through the program, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) acquires land and develops recreational amenities on state properties. The program also provides grants to local governments and community organizations to acquire and develop properties.

In his budget proposal, Evers includes a 10-year reauthorization of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program at $70 million per year. Currently the program is funded at $33 million per year. The program has been cut from a high of $86 million per year in 2007.

The Spring Green Preserve is a nearly 1,400 acre SNA of unique sand prairie, bluffs and oak barrens just north of Spring Green that is owned and maintained by The Nature Conservancy, who hosted the tour with Evers. Valley Sentinel previously covered the ecological role of prescribed burns by The Nature Conservancy in our March 24 edition.

A sign at the trailhead of the Spring Green Nature Preserve showing it is a recipient of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship grant program. Photo by Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

The Nature Conservancy shared their support for the reauthorization of the Stewardship: “With the increased conservation needs for fresh water, challenges to plants, animals, and people from extreme weather events, and greater demand for outdoor recreational opportunities, we need a strong, well funded Stewardship Program more than ever. It’s crucial that the governor reauthorize the program for the long-term, with robust funding to support the work.”

According to The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation, Hannah Spaul, acquisition of 900 acres of the Preserve was funded in part by Stewardship funds over the years. Spaul said the funds have complemented the acquisition of pieces of property over time, including not only parts with high biological diversity value, but also buffer areas that are important to the restoration and maintenance of the Preserve as well.

After a short walking tour with the governor, The Nature Conservancy’s Deputy State Director Matt Dallman spoke and emphasized the value of preserving ecosystems like the Preserve provides.

“Wetlands, forests and grasslands slow water down and capture it, preventing damaging flooding events,” said Dallman. “Our best science tells us that we need to conserve additional natural lands for both people and nature.”

At a time where attendance numbers show a record amount of people re-engaging with outdoor resources due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dallman stated that the Preserve itself is threatened by climate change.

“Stewardship dollars work to harness the powerful solutions nature provides to fight climate change,” said Dallman.

Dallman shared research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies that shows that the Stewardship’s annual cost comes out to $19.75 per resident annually.

“Less than a fishing license,” joked Dallman.

The same research found that the Stewardship generates $2 billion dollars in economic value to the state annually.

Locally, within the 17th district of the Wisconsin State Senate, there have been more than 500 Stewardship projects. Those projects have been worth more than $40 million in direct state investment, according to Map.KnowlesNelson.Org, a service of Gathering Waters, Inc. — a non-profit that advocates and assists with land trusts.

“It’s really transformed the landscape for the better,” says Charles Carlin, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Gathering Waters.

“On a scale of one to ten ‘Holy Mackerels’—how important is the Stewardship funding renewal?”

Gov. Tony Evers, left, examines prickly pear cacti in the portion of the Spring Green Preserve that was burned
by prescribed fire in March. Photo by Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

In his remarks after the tour, Evers re-emphasized the critical role ecosystems like the Preserve play in preventing flooding like the state, including the Spring Green area, has seen in recent years.

Evers thanked The Nature Conservancy and spoke to the increased traffic natural areas have seen.

“We’ve found during this pandemic how important being outside is. We’ve seen it in the state parks, the folks here have certainly seen it, and it’s going to continue afterwards too,” said Evers. “We’ve created a need, and we have to make sure we do it because it’s the right thing, not only for getting outside but preserving what is great for the state of Wisconsin.”

Evers shared his belief that Stewardship reauthorization isn’t a partisan issue and said he looked forward to working with the legislature to address climate change and to make sure the state is meeting the needs of the people of Wisconsin in getting outside.

Valley Sentinel was able to interview the governor after his remarks:

Valley Sentinel: “On a scale of one to ten ‘Holy Mackerels’—how important is the Stewardship funding renewal?”
Governor Tony Evers: “Oh, that’s a ten. It’s absolutely a ten.”

Listen to the governor’s full remarks and Valley Sentinel’s Q&A with the governor below: