Nature is vital to our physical and mental health and well-being. That’s become even more evident as we’re drawn outside during this challenging year.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides access to outdoor recreation activities, protects wildlife habitat and water quality, builds flood resistance and fights impacts of climate change.

The Stewardship Program has quietly helped conserve the best of outdoor Wisconsin since 1989 when Gov. Tommy Thompson and the State Legislature first authorized it. Local communities and nonprofits (matching the state investment dollar-for-dollar) have expanded parks and public nature preserves, purchased land and easements and added infrastructure like boat ramps and nature trails to community parks and natural areas. Stewardship dollars have been invested in all 72 Wisconsin counties.

Public lands are vital to Wisconsin’s $18 billion outdoor recreational industry and $24 billion forest economy. U.S. Census Bureau data shows Wisconsin ranks in the bottom half of states for parks and recreation operating spending overall and second to last for spending at the state level. The Stewardship Fund accounts for about 2 percent of the state’s debt.

The Stewardship Program will expire in July 2021 unless included in the next state budget. Gov. Tony Evers has proposed funding $70 million annually (down from a high of $86 million), but it’s up to our state legislators to determine the fate and any funding of the Stewardship Program.

Please take a moment to contact your state legislators before Wednesday, March 31, urging them to reauthorize and adequately fund this critical conservation program. An action alert to your legislators is available at nature.org/WIStewardshipProgramNow.

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