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Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grantsAcquisition of Development Rights Program

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program is the name for a family of funds supporting natural resource protection and nature-based outdoor recreation in Wisconsin.

Some Stewardship funds are available as grants to local governments and nonprofit conservation organizations (known as LUGs and NCOs). Brief information about each subprogram is below. For detailed information about applying for any one of these grant programs, follow links below to application materials and contact grant staff in your region of the state. Stewardship grants can be grouped, generally, into two categories:

Grants to purchase land or conservation easements

Grants to purchase land or fund recreational development on public lands

Acquisition of Development Rights

See s. 23.09(20m), Wis. Stats. [exit DNR]; ch. NR 51, subchap XV, Wis. Adm. Code, [exit DNR]

Who can apply

Who can apply

Local governments and tribal governments

Eligible local governments are only those towns, villages, cities, counties and tribal governments that have a DNR accepted comprehensive outdoor recreation plan or master plan which has been approved by resolution by the local governing unit. A county outdoor recreation plan that has been adopted by the town, village or city and that contains sufficient detail related to the grant project may also satisfy the plan requirement. Local governments with qualifying plans receive eligibility to apply for grants for up to five years. If you have not submitted a plan, contact your DNR regional community services specialist (CSS) for information about how to satisfy this requirement.

Nonprofit conservation organizations

Nonprofit conservation organizations (NCO) are eligible to apply to the Stewardship programs for land acquisition. An eligible NCO must be a nonprofit corporation, charitable trust or other nonprofit association as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It must also have as part of its mission "the acquisition of property for conservation purposes." This mission should be reflected in the bylaws, charter or incorporation papers of the organization. To learn if your organization is eligible, simply supply the region CSS with a copy of your IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter, as well as copies of your Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. In addition to these basic eligibility requirements, an NCO must also be able to demonstrate that it has the financial capacity to carry out a project, as well as the ability to maintain and manage property over time. This determination is made when a NCO applies for a grant for a specific project.


Eligible projects

See ch. NR 51, subchap XV, Wis. Adm. Code, [exit DNR], for information about eligible projects and program priorities.


Program purpose

The purpose of the Acquisition of Development Rights Program is to protect natural, agricultural or forest lands that enhance and/or provide nature-based outdoor recreation. "Development Rights" are the rights of a landowner to develop their property to the greatest extent allowed under state and local laws.


Program priorities

To be eligible for funding, a project must provide or enhance nature-based outdoor recreation. Priority shall be given to projects that have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • property that provides nature-based outdoor recreation;
  • property with frontage on rivers, streams, lakes or estuaries;
  • property that creates a buffer between land that has been permanently protected for natural resource and conservation purposes and potential or existing residential, commercial or industrial development;
  • property that is within the boundaries of an acquisition project established by the DNR, a government unit or a NCO where the uses of the property will complement the goals of the project and the Stewardship Program; or
  • property that is within an environmental corridor that connects two or more established resource protection areas.

The DNR considers the following factors when evaluating acquisition of development rights:

  • recreational opportunities provided or enhanced;
  • proximity to other permanently protected land;
  • natural, scenic, geological and archaeological values of the property;
  • the degree of development pressure;
  • whether the project has been identified in a comprehensive outdoor recreation plan that has as one of its purposes the protection of natural resources, or the natural heritage inventory database; and
  • the amount of funding available for the project from other sources.

Additional grant requirements

  1. The project sponsor may not convert or approve conversion of land encumbered by the easement to uses inconsistent with the easement. Residential, industrial or commercial development is prohibited on those areas of easement property that are encumbered by a Stewardship grant. Additional restrictions or conditions may be imposed by the easement or grant contract.
  2. Agriculture and forestry may be permitted on property encumbered by an easement as long as those activities are compatible with the purposes of the Stewardship Program and the acquisition project.
  3. Any agriculture within the area encumbered by an easement shall be carried out in accordance with the conditions, standards and specifications of a soil and water conservation plan approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service office located in each county.
  4. Harvesting of timber within the area encumbered by an easement shall be carried out in accordance with the conditions of a forest management plan approved by the DNR.
  5. Vegetative buffers shall be established and maintained along lakes, ponds, wetlands, marshes, rivers, streams and ditches. Whenever possible, the area of the vegetative buffer shall extend at least 75 feet from each edge of the surface water or wetland. There may be no activity that adversely affects the natural flow of surface or underground waters within the area of the easement.

Grants awarded

Grants are awarded for up to 50% of eligible project costs. The sponsor's share of project costs must come from non-state sources.

How to apply

How to apply

See Local units of government application process


Application deadlines

Application deadline is May 1.

Last revised: Tuesday March 21 2017