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Stewardship program logo
Apply (LUG)
for grants eligible for local units of government.
Apply (NCO)
for grants eligible for nonprofit conservation organizations.
Stewardship Grant lands.
Contact information
For more information, see:
Stewardship grant contact list

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grantsTerms and conditions

Before applying for a Stewardship grant, it is important to know what obligations come attached to Stewardship dollars. The requirements of Stewardship grant programs are spelled out in grant agreements or contracts, the administrative rules for each program, and in state and federal statutes.

To help applicants decide if these grant programs suit their purposes, some of the "strings" attached to Stewardship grants from all subprograms are summarized below. Others conditions are relevant either to nonprofit conservation organizations (NCO) or local units of government (LUG) only.

All grantees

Terms and conditions for all Stewardship grant recipients

  • Grant recipients have perpetual obligations. Accepting a Stewardship grant signals agreement to the conditions and requirements of the grant programs. Grant sponsors and all subsequent owners have the obligation to keep the land purchased or site developed compliant with program rules in perpetuity. Unless the DNR approves a transfer of title, grant recipients must maintain legal control and oversight of the property. This applies to both development projects on leased land and when executing contracts with a third party for the development and operation of recreational facilities.

  • Public access is fundamental to Stewardship Grant programs. Reasonable public access has always been required to and upon properties purchased or developed with Stewardship funds. Any land purchased in fee with Stewardship dollars must be open to the public. Before October 27, 2007, "open to the public" was not legally defined, and on lands purchased before that date, the specific nature of public recreational access varies.

    Since October 27, 2007, all property purchased in fee with Stewardship funds must be open to the public for at least the five defined nature-based outdoor activities (NBOA) hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking and cross country skiing. The DNR may allow a prohibition of one or more of the NBOA if the Natural Resource Board has determined that the prohibition is necessary to protect public safety or unique plant or animal communities. Any applicant considering a prohibition of one of the five NBOA needs to be familiar with both the Stewardship statutes and ch. NR 52, Wis. Adm. Code.

    If Stewardship funds will acquire property that is landlocked, applicants will need to obtain an easement for access purposes over adjoining property. Applicants are required to use a DNR template access easement.

  • Public use should begin as soon as possible. When Stewardship funds are used to acquire land for outdoor recreation, that use should begin as soon as possible. The same holds true for development projects on land being acquired with Stewardship funds. Prior to the completion of development, it is important that the property be open to the public to the greatest extent possible for those recreational uses that the land is capable of supporting with a minimum of public investment. Delayed development should be discussed with grant staff.

  • Land acquisition must be completed in accordance with land acquisition and appraisal procedures defined in Wisconsin statutes as well as other related state and federal requirements. These procedures can be complex and confusing, especially if you are considering a project where environmental contamination of the property is known or suspected. If you are considering applying for grant to acquire land, it is critical that you contact your DNR regional community services specialists (CSS) to discuss your project and obtain the land acquisition guidelines and appraisal guidelines prior to beginning negotiations with the land seller.

  • Stewardship sponsors have signage requirements. Per section 23.09165, Wis. Stats., most lands purchased with Stewardship funds must be posted with signs that give notice to the public:

    1. that the land was acquired with Stewardship funds; and

    2. which primary activities are allowed or prohibited on the property. See signage information for more detail.

  • Grantees must comply with all applicable local, state and federal statutes, regulations, administrative rules that will affect the Stewardship property, including but not limited to, general and special zoning, land use permit requirements, accessibility for persons with disabilities, environmental quality and historical and archaeological preservation.

  • The DNR has rights to access for inspections. Project sponsors are responsible for compliance with Stewardship statutes and administrative code and for management and maintenance of Stewardship property. However, the DNR reserves the right of access to Stewardship funded properties and projects to monitor compliance and carry out management activities necessary to ensure the public's rights and safety.

  • Stewardship's interest in the property must be recorded in the deed. Any property incorporated into the Stewardship program, either through direct acquisition or because it was used as match to a Stewardship grant on another property, must have that relationship with the Stewardship program reflected in the language of the deed. Standard deed language is available from regional grant staff.

  • The law limits user fees. Grantees may charge reasonable user fees to offset operation and property maintenance costs. Daily user fees shall not exceed the current cost of a daily pass at a Wisconsin State Park. Local government grantees my charge a different fee to residents or non-residents as long as the non-resident fee does not preclude use by the non-residents and does not exceed 1.5 times the resident fee rate. Applicants should discuss any plans to charge user fees with grant staff.

  • The law directs use of any project income. Income received from fees charged on a property purchased in part with a Stewardship grant must be used to further the objectives of the project as stated in the grant agreement/contract or to further the objectives of another Stewardship project.

    Grantees must keep income in a segregated account. The DNR may request an annual income and expenses report for funds in such a segregated account. If you anticipate selling any structures or improvements from a property that was purchased in part with a Stewardship grant, one-half of all receipts shall be reimbursed to the department or will be deducted from any outstanding reimbursement.

    If a property is enrolled into the County Forest Law Program, then any income derived from the property may be divided according to the laws for that program.

    On land acquired with Stewardship grant funds, if sponsors sell structures or improvements that were included in the acquisition cost, one-half of all receipts shall be reimbursed to the DNR or deducted from the reimbursement amount provided by the DNR.

  • Selling or leasing a part of the grant property, or executing an easement on a portion of or all of the property is generally prohibited. On rare occasions, the DNR may approve the following exceptions depending on the details of the situation and whether the non-recreational use impact to the property is outweighed by the future recreation benefit to the public. Those circumstances could be as follows:

    • short-term (less than a year) continuation of an existing lease on which the property sale is contingent;

    • leasing a part of a property for agricultural purposes for five years or less in an interim time period when development must be delayed or when it is a contingency of the sale; or

    • granting control or partial control of land for public roads, power line rights-of way or pipelines. Sewer and water lines may be allowed depending on the impact of the action on the recreation resource with DNR approval. The DNR requires that land lost to outdoor recreation must be replaced with property of equal or greater recreational value and utility at the grantees expense. No grant funding is available for replacement property. Please contact your regional CSS before granting any control over Stewardship grant funded property.

  • Property purchased with Stewardship funds may not be used as security for any debt unless the DNR previously approves this arrangement , which is not likely. If necessary, the DNR could take action to prevent the placement of liens, judgments or encumbrances on property purchased with Stewardship funds.

  • New overhead power lines are not permitted. The DNR requires that any new electrical or communication lines on Stewardship lands be installed underground unless there is a pre-existing easement that specifically allows installation above ground. On Stewardship-funded conservation easements, we also recommend, but do not require, that existing lines be buried, removed or relocated when possible.


Grants to nonprofit conservation organizations (NCO)

  • Recorded grant contracts accompany Stewardship awards. When an NCO accepts a Stewardship grant, they sign a grant contract through which they agree to comply with Stewardship program requirements defined by that contract and in ch. 51, Wis. Adm. Code. The grant contract is recorded on the property deed and becomes a permanent encumbrance on the property. All obligations, terms, conditions and restrictions of the grant contract are limitations on the use of the property in perpetuity.

  • Land management plans must be approved by the DNR. Nonprofit conservation organization grantees are responsible for ensuring that the natural values of a Stewardship property are protected and maintained in perpetuity and that the property is managed according to the terms of a Land Management Plan approved by the DNR. Land Management Plans are a requirement of the program and are developed by the NCO in consultation with DNR resource specialists. When a property acquired with a Stewardship grant is within the boundaries of a DNR project, the Land Management Plan must also be consistent with the Master Plan for the DNR project. More information about developing a Land Management Plan may be found in NCO application material.

  • The DNR has reversionary rights to property purchased with Stewardship funds. If an NCO violates any essential condition of the grant contract and fails to correct it within six months after written notification is received from the Department, all title, right, and interest in the property held by the NCO shall vest in the Department. In the event the NCO dissolves, the property shall revert to the Department unless it approves transfer to another NCO or government agency.

  • Property interest may not be conveyed to another party without DNR approval. An NCO may not convey any interest in a property purchased with Stewardship funds to a third party nor allow any leases, permits, or encumbrances on that property without the prior written approval of the Department. If an applicant knows that it will transfer property purchased with Stewardship funds to another nonprofit or a local government, applicants must make grant staff aware of that pending transfer at the time of application; the Department will still need to approve transfer and be a signatory on assignment documents that must be recorded. If the Department should approve a transfer to a third party, the third party is obligated to comply with all requirements of the Stewardship program.

  • Natural Areas must be offered to the Department for dedication. If an organization is awarded a grant through the Natural Areas subprogram, the organization must offer the property for dedication as a State Natural Area under ss. 23.27 and 23.29, Wis. Stats.. Articles of Dedication provide the strongest long-term legal protection for Natural Areas in the state. Legally dedicated sites are protected in perpetuity as State Natural Areas and may not be taken for other uses without a finding of urgent and greater public need by the DNR and subsequent approval by the Governor and the appropriate standing committees in both house of the Legislature.


Grants to local units of governments (LUG)

details regarding long-term obligations for Stewardship LUG grants can be found in the Grant Guidelines.

Last revised: Tuesday March 21 2017