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Your voice is needed to protect land, water, wildlife, and farmlands for the health and well-being of all who live in Wisconsin's Driftless Area, and beyond.

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Knowles-Nelson Gets Its Day in Court

Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 at 9:30am.

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, our Wisconsin land trust alliance, intervened in the case as a co-plaintiff. 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, Gathering Waters chose to intervene in the case in order to tell the Knowles-Nelson story and to add 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.

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.

You're Invited

  • 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.


photo of Miller Bluff

They're at it again!

Legislators are trying to sneak in new restrictions on Knowles-Nelson grants.

Republican state legislators have released their legislative proposal for fixing "shared revenue," which is how the state shares income and sales tax revenue with local communities. Republicans and Democrats agree that the current system does not work. Local governments are cash starved, which is creating serious difficulties in municipalities' ability to deliver basic services.

Unfortunately, Knowles-Nelson has been caught in the political crossfire. The bill released yesterday includes many provisions that have nothing to do with shared revenue, including the following new restrictions on Knowles-Nelson grant applications:

For projects north of Highway 8 (runs through Rhinelander), the project cannot be submitted to the Joint Finance Committee for review unless every municipality and county in which any portion of the project is located passes a resolution in support of the project.

Put another way, any single local government, no matter how few people it represents, can veto a conservation project simply by not acting.


You can help by telling your legislators that legislation about shared revenue is not the place to make yet another attack on land conservation.

We here at Team Knowles Nelson fully support increases in state aid to local governments, which has nothing to do with Knowles-Nelson. Let's have a public debate about funding conservation instead of undermining it with riders attached to unrelated bills.

If you're interested in delving into the details of land conservation, local government finances, and shared revenue, check out the in-depth research we completed on the topic.

Addressing the shared revenue crisis is a crucial task. Many compromises will have to be made to reach an agreement and no one will get everything they want. However, we can reasonably expect that state legislators will stay on topic and not drag land conservation or other unrelated topics into the debate.

Thanks from all of us at Mississippi Valley Conservancy and our Wisconsin Land Trust alliance, Gathering Waters.

Blufflands protected for community and climate

Wisconsin's largest conservation project sabotaged by anonymous legislator

The Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is at it again. An anonymous legislator, without any public explanation, has blocked the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from completing the largest land conservation project in state history. 

The Pelican River Forest would conserve more than 70,000 acres of private forestland in Langlade, Forest, and Oneida counties for public recreation and forestry. This single project would get Wisconsin more than halfway towards the goal Governor Evers' set in his executive order calling for 125,000 acres of forestland to be conserved by 2030 as part of the state's effort to address the climate crisis.

How did this happen?

The last step to approve a Knowles-Nelson project like the Pelican River Forest is what's known as passive review by the JFC. JFC's oversight comes after the DNR has thoroughly vetted the project and after the Natural Resources Board approves it. A lot of smart and qualified real estate and natural resources professionals have worked very hard to put together this high-value project for the benefit of Wisconsin residents and visitors. 

Unfortunately, at the eleventh hour, the JFC has threatened to scuttle the whole thing. And their secretive approach nearly defies belief. 

A single, anonymous legislator can object to a project for any reason, or for no reason at all. That objection stops the project in its tracks.

JFC's review process lacks the most basic elements of good governance: there is no transparency, no accountability, and no clear path for an up-or-down vote. Knowles-Nelson projects have languished for years because of a JFC objection.

This arbitrary practice of anonymous objections has to stop.

Please contact your state legislators and the members of the Joint Finance Committee and urge them to lift the objection, approve the Pelican River Forest project, and provide accountability and transparency in the JFC review process.

Taking action is easy. Just click the button above. We've identified your legislators and drafted the messages. Reaching out takes less than a minute.

How do we fix this broken process?

Anonymous, indefinite objections to conservation projects are strangling the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and paralyzing Wisconsin's efforts to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities, utilize cost-effective natural climate solutions, and strengthen local economies. 

The most important step we can take is speaking up. Lawmakers need to hear that Wisconsinites won't stand for this abuse of power or the breakdown of basic democratic processes. Lawmakers need to know that their constituents are committed to making sure that Knowles-Nelson works for Wisconsin.

No matter our political party affiliations or where we live, we all share a commitment to good governance and wisely conserving our state's natural resources.

We at Mississippi Valley Conservancy are working with Gathering Waters, our allies in the conservation community and champions in the legislature to get to the bottom of this objection and to work toward reforming the review process. We'll keep you updated on our progress.

Thank you for reaching out to legislators and showing your support for the Pelican River Forest and the integrity of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. We can't say it enough: Every message counts and our decision makers are listening.

La Crosse Blufflands

UPDATE: Protection of state funded lands is threatened

The Knowles-Nelson land sale bill has now been introduced in the Assembly as AB 852. The language is identical to the Senate bill. The Assembly Committee on Forestry, Parks and Outdoor Recreation will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday, February 2 at 10:00 AM (417 North, GAR Hall).

La Crosse County farmland

Speak up to protect farmland

La Crosse county has begun work to update its comprehensive plan and the issues it will address will be those faced one way or another by the rest of the region as well. "ENVISION 2050 will guide La Crosse County’s budgets, land use and natural resource policies, and general direction for the next generation and beyond," according to the county website.

La Crosse County invites public participation throughout the process. An initial survey for public input is available now.