send
Send Letter to Editor

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Whooping crane project partners don crane costumes before viewing cranes at Necedah Wildlife Refuge. © Natural Resources Foundation
Whooping crane project partners don crane costumes before viewing cranes at Necedah Wildlife Refuge.

© Natural Resources Foundation

June 2006

Sowing seeds of hope

For 20 years the Natural Resources Foundation has provided the ways and means for individuals to help grow Wisconsin's conservation future.

Robert Beets


Building community-based conservation
Fostering friends to "adopt" the best of our public lands
Putting endangered species on the road to recovery
Educating conservation leaders and encouraging a curious public
Endowing a wild future

Sometimes big changes and tremendous opportunities begin with small steps. A case in point: decontaminating the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant and restoring its 7,354 acres remain a vast challenge for 20 groups, including the U.S. government, state agencies, the Ho-Chunk Nation, the community of Baraboo, and local environmentalists, who together have been sorting out issues and tackling problems since 1991.

In the larger scheme of things, the revival of one small quarter-acre parcel near the property's front gate hardly seems worthy of notice. Yet nearly 200 representatives from all the interested parties met at Badger on a fall day in 2004 to celebrate this milestone. With seed money from the Natural Resources Foundation, they planted the Dave Fordham Memorial Prairie on the parcel and dedicated it to Fordham, who was Badger's installation director for 25 years. He was instrumental in bringing prairie plantings to the Badger property starting in the 1980s and continuing until his death in 2003.

"Many of us had worked for years in anticipation of a day like this, when we could sow some seeds of hope on this battered land," said Amanda Fuller of the Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance, which helped establish the memorial prairie. "The planting gave different stakeholders and future landowners a chance to come together in a common purpose. We hope this event sets a precedent for future prairie plantings and continued cooperation among landowners and neighbors at Badger – and we hope the Fordham Prairie, as it grows, reminds us of the rewards of that good work."

Throughout its 20-year history, the Natural Resources Foundation has worked to make those cooperative links and to help individuals carry out their outdoor values through conservation projects in Wisconsin – projects that bridge a gap between private interests and public needs.

In the mid-1980s, as conservation needs continued to outstrip available funding, the Natural Resources Board proposed that DNR form a nonprofit foundation to accept private contributions for public conservation projects. The Natural Resources Foundation (NRF) was incorporated and developed alliances with individuals, corporations and government to collectively steward Wisconsin's public resources.

Today, the NRF has nearly 2,000 members and secures funds to support endangered resources, protect habitats and help communities become better stewards of their local resources. Members have donated or raised more than $1.4 million to promote enjoyment and appreciation of Wisconsin's natural resources.

Building community-based conservation

Since 1991, the foundation's C.D. Besadny Conservation Grants have provided seed money for local community projects in every county. They are not big grants, but when matched with local elbow grease and enthusiasm, the match grants of up to $1,000 helped more than 300 groups launch conservation projects near home.

One of those projects included cleaning up Marsh Road in Waupaca County. It's just a simple bit of gravel road running through woods and backwaters between State Road 54 and White Lake Road in the Town of Royalton. Like many secluded places, it had become a dumping ground. On one three-mile stretch, concerned citizens counted 73 discarded tires, a couch, a chair, a couple of mattresses and an old refrigerator. The community struggled to collect enough cash to clean up the ditches and roadsides. Then, boosted by a Besadny grant in 2004, the town mobilized volunteers and cleared out more than five tons of illegally dumped refuse along their rural road.

The foundation helped build accessible cabins like this one in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. © Natural Resources Foundation
The foundation helped build accessible cabins like this one in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

© Natural Resources Foundation

"Plainly put, without the support from the Besadny grant, the Marsh Road Clean-Up Project would not have taken place," said DNR Conservation Warden Jeffrey Knorr. "The grant was instrumental for the project. All attempts to secure funds from town, county, and state sources, met with disappointment, until we heard the project was awarded a grant."

The project didn't end after the cleanup. The effort transformed the route from being no one's problem to being everyone's concern. The community kept a close watch and eventually caught the illegal dumpers in the act.

Fostering friends to "adopt" the best of our public lands

Two years ago NRF kicked off a campaign to raise both awareness and dollars for State Natural Areas, the sanctuaries for Wisconsin's finest remnants of ecological communities including oak savannas, prairies, wetlands and old-growth forests. These pristine areas protect the best remaining parcels of natural habitat and the rare species they harbor. Although legally protected and designated by state statute, State Natural Areas often lack funds to manage and maintain their unique qualities. Fending off invasive plants, curtailing browsing deer and providing guidelines for curious visitors require caretakers and cash.

The foundation's campaign aims to find individual and corporate sponsors partial to a parcel that will "adopt" natural areas and contribute to their long-term care. NRF's Natural Areas Coordinator travels across the state to encourage companies and communities to take charge in protecting these vulnerable lands, emphasizing the importance of keeping the remnants for future generations. Five "Friends of State Natural Areas" groups have already formed and are organizing work parties of community members to manage and protect their shared resources. Friends groups help fill the gaps when state land managers cannot meet all the property's needs. The program encourages collective responsibility for the natural heritage we all share.

Putting endangered species on the road to recovery

Over the course of two decades, NRF has helped many enthusiastic supporters find the means to restore endangered populations of timber wolves, trumpeter swans and whooping cranes in Wisconsin. It is gratifying work to see these species rebound and move toward self-sustaining populations. Foundation supporters helped underwrite the costs of the Timber Wolf Monitoring and Depredation Project. The Adopt-A-Swan program, organized by NRF, allowed individuals to personally ensure the survival of each endangered trumpeter swan.

NRF is also a partner in the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project and has contributed nearly $300,000 to purchase project equipment, monitor cranes, and help pay the bills for veterinary medicine, research and public education. The project aims to build the population up to a sustainable 125 cranes that will independently migrate each year between their Florida winter home and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. NRF's Crane Club members contribute generously to reintroduce cranes and sustain their recovery.

Educating conservation leaders and encouraging a curious public

In 1986, ten minority students from Milwaukee entered the first six-year Minority Internship Program coordinated by Milwaukee Public Schools and the DNR's Southeast Region, and funded in part through a grant from the Natural Resources Foundation. Through 2003, the internship program has given 150 students work experiences, career guidance and training to consider careers in resource management and environmental studies in Wisconsin.

The foundation also feeds curious minds by helping underwrite publishing costs for some of DNR's most popular field guides and timely reports. NRF provided initial funding for three field guides to Wisconsin's lizards and turtles, amphibians, and snakes. NRF provided financial support for several publications: Wisconsin Naturally – A Guide to 150 State Natural Areas, Understanding Chronic Wasting Disease, Land Legacy Report, Checklist of Wisconsin Birds and several guidebooks in a five-part series, Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trails.

NRF's annual Field Trip Program offers guided weekend day trips from spring through fall. On the trips, which are open to all, participants can visit natural places and learn how wild lands are managed. DNR employees lead the trips and share their knowledge and passion for protecting public resources.

Further, the foundation helped finance building cabins accessible to campers with disabilities at Mirror Lake State Park (1991), Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit (1993), and Potawatomi State Park (1995). Five cabins at Wisconsin State Parks with accessible kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms, and two one-room rustic cabins, allow disabled individuals to participate in outdoor camping activities.

Endowing a wild future

Besides tending to pressing conservation needs over the last 20 years, the foundation is helping people make even longer term plans to protect the unique places and outdoor experiences they cherish.

"We're telling people, give us your conservation dream, and we will ensure that it lives on for future generations to enjoy," said Charlie Luthin, executive director of the Natural Resources Foundation. The Wisconsin Conservation Endowment will pool, invest and manage individual financial gifts. The interest from the endowed funds will form a legacy to sustain projects for years to come.

For Carla Butenhoff of Elm Grove, that meant taking steps so the next generations could experience the long, quiet walks she took with her parents: "Walks in the woods were an important part of a wonderful childhood," she said. Mrs. Butenhoff and her husband, Neal, created the Norma & Stanley DeBoer Quiet Trails Fund to support nonmotorized public trails throughout Wisconsin. At the agreement signing Carla wore her mother's old hiking boots and her dad's hiking shirt. Both of her parents were inveterate hikers and her dad had worked as a game supervisor and a district director for the Department of Natural Resources.

"My husband and I created this fund to honor my parents so that others might create their own memories like those I hold so dear from our times quietly walking Wisconsin's trails," she said.

For Bob Jostes of Mokena, Illinois, it was love at first sight coming to the Wisconsin Northwoods as a child.

"It was always a magical feeling visiting the lakes and forests, and our family eagerly anticipated each trip," Jostes explained. He's an avid outdoorsman whose working days are confined by the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. "These natural areas are even more important to me as a refuge from the stress, demands and fast pace of city life," he said. "People need sanctuary where they can reconnect with the natural world, places where distractions are few, the scenery is beautiful and your spirit can be reinvigorated."

He created the Robert M. Jostes Wisconsin State Natural Areas Fund to provide perpetual funding for projects to raise awareness and appreciation for these special parcels. His is an "acorn" fund in which annual contributions will eventually build up to provide a living conservation legacy.

In a similar fashion, people who want to realize a conservation dividend from their lifelong investments can direct portions of their retirement funds, real estate or other assets to the endowment program.

"The Wisconsin Conservation Endowment will enable us, in our state, to create the intellectual and practical foundations for a better world," said Nina Leopold Bradley, daughter of the late ecologist Aldo Leopold. "Never has there been a greater need for private funds to energize a genuine commitment to harmony between men and the land. Were my father alive today, I think he would be pleased with this important initiative."

Big dreams start from humble beginnings. Through individual actions, shared values and collective vision, contributors to the Natural Resources Foundation are building partnerships to seed and spread enduring support for a wild future throughout Wisconsin.

Robert Beets is communications coordinator for the Natural Resources Foundation in Madison.