Many natural areas and local recreation sites have been funded by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Dozens of environmental and hunting and fishing groups have asked Governor Evers to push for the fund's renewal. The fund is up for renewal next year.
The fund was created in 1989. The program gives the state spending authority to purchase land and easement additions to state properties. Stewardship dollars also support campsite, restroom and trail improvements.
Executive Director of Gathering Waters: Wisconsin's Alliance for Land Trusts, Mike Carlson. says 58 diverse groups signed on to the letter of support for the fund...
"The next state budget debate is coming up, starting early next year...if the Governor and the legislature can't agree on continuing funding for the Stewardship Program it's going to expire..."
Gov. Evers has asked for a 10-year reauthorization.
But majority Republicans in the legislature have questioned continuing the fund, saying the Program has accumulated too much land and has incurred high debt. The state is obligated to pay $795 million in debt on bonds for its purchases. Carlson says the interest on the bonds amounts to less than 1 percent of the state budget. He said the value of the public land to the economy also has to be in consideration.
Carlson says people have used public lands heavily during the COVID outbreak...
"Just a tremendous demand since March, a spike in demand in those kinds of outdoor recreation infrastructure..."
Most a Stewardship spending is grants to local governments and nonprofits. Stewardship grants fund local park infrastructure, boat ramp facilities, recreational trails and land purchases for parks and nature preserves statewide.
More information on the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is here.