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Polls Find Overwhelming Support for Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund in Wisconsin

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

People in the Wisconsin, and especially the Northwoods, want to see the state government continue to fund conservation and environmental projects in the state. That’s according to a recent public survey conducted by bi-partisan firms.

New Bridge Strategy and FM3 were hired by The Nature Conservancy to conduct the study.

The firms ask democrats and republicans around the state various question about the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.

The program was created in 1989 to support a wide variety of outdoor projects from trail building to water quality.

Credit The Nature Conservancy

“We have very consistent support over the last few years, obviously now under very different economic and budget situations, but 92% continuing support that program moving into the future and over three-quarters feeling strongly about that,” said Lori Weigel with New Bridge Strategy.

The polling also broke down results by region.

People in the northern portion of state that responded to the polls had the highest rates of support for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.

Matt Dallman is the Deputy State Director of the Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. He’s based in Minocqua.

“You look at that polling and I actually surprised by the amount of support we see in the north when they broke it into the regional area. Again, this is across all party lines, and people still it the north feel we should still do more,” said Dallman. “I think as well look at the important of the program and what it’s done already for maintaining access sustainable timber lands and for recreational access, I think that’s why we’re seeing the polling results the way they were.”

Credit The Nature Conservancy

The polls also looks what people would like to see the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund money used for. Protecting drinking water and protecting water quality in rivers and streams topped the list.

The Nature Conservancy and Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts wants to see the Knowles-Nelson Fund renewed for 10 years. The organizations are also supporting the amount the DNR has requested for the funds which is $50 million a year.

The program costs people about $19.75 a year. Gathering Waters has found the return on investment to large. It estimates for every $1 of capital investment in public lands through Knowles-Nelson, the state receives nearly $30 in ecosystem services every year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how valuable useable outdoor space is to people.

“As people needed to physically distance and get outdoors we saw our state parks beings overrun. We saw state parks closing because they couldn’t handle the amount of people and that in itself is an indicator that we still have more to do,” said Dallman.

Credit The Nature Conservancy

The polls showed that people supported the investment in conservation and environment projects even when the economy is not at its best.

“More than three-quarters and usually, roughly 9 in 10 including 88% this year saying that this is something that’s important to do. Lots of different political context, lots of different economic context, but a continued priority saying this is something that should be a focus in the state budget and totally bi-partisan sentiment as well,” said Dave Metz with FM3.

The Governor has his State of the State Address in January and then release his budget in February. The Nature Conservancy and Gathering Waters plan to be in contact with the Governor’s office and state lawmakers to convince them to keep investing in the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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