Door County Land Trust Reacts to Stewardship Cuts

When Governor Scott Walker announced that he would freeze spending on Knowles-Nelson Stewardship fund spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, it came as a big surprise to Dan Burke, Director of the Door County Land Trust.

“There’s only about $2 million, of $86 million for the year, left in the budget,” Burke said. “The immediate freeze in the middle of this year’s granting program puts the breaks on projects that have been two or three years in the making.”

Burke said he’s concerned that some land deals will be lost right away. The Land Trust is a nonprofit that works to preserve targeted lands on the Door Peninsula for preservation. In the last 25 years, the Land Trust has preserved over 5,000 acres with a combination of private donations and stewardship funds. Those lands are open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, and kayaking.

“It’s been a great program for minimizing the cost of preservation,” Burke said. “Having nonprofits involved has been one of the best aspects of the program. The state gets the land protected, but the community pays half the cost, and the state doesn’t incur the long-term cost of monitoring and managing the land. It would seem to me that no matter your political stripe, you would see it as a good partnership.”

It has, in fact, been a program that received strong bi-partisan support. It was started under Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, and Land Trust dedications have been one of the few events in which Democratic and Republican representatives have grappled for credit and face time in recent years.

Of the $86 million budgeted for the program, Burke said about $12 million is available for nonprofit organizations like the Land Trust, and he hopes that it remains near that level even if the larger budget is slashed, as Walker said will happen. Stewardship dollars have been used in 90 percent of Land Trust purchases, helping preserve over 1,800 acres. Among those areas preserved with stewardship funds have been the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve, the Three Springs Nature Preserve in Sister Bay, The Ephraim Preserve at Anderson Pond, Bay Shore Blufflands Nature Preserve in Egg Harbor, and the Little Lake Nature Preserve on Washington Island.