Wisconsin's Path: By the Numbers
Acres of land and water protected.
Acres of soil health practices we partnered on with farmers
Trees planted for clean air, water and wildlife
Acres of land managed with prescribed fire
Wisconsin’s Path: Your Impact on Our Journey to Protect Nature
In 2017, The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin launched a campaign to support our efforts to move even more quickly to protect Wisconsin’s lands and waters, transform how people use land and water in a way that is more sustainable, and inspire more people to take action for nature.
Four years into the Wisconsin’s Path campaign, we have raised more than $65 million in gifts for today and legacy gifts for tomorrow.
The challenges we face are enormous—from a changing climate to the loss of biodiversity and a growing population—and so our campaign continues. It is a journey to create a world where people and nature can thrive together. It is an ambitious goal and it will take all of us.
Every person and every dollar will make a difference. If you’ve made a gift to Wisconsin’s Path, thank you! If not, we invite you to join us on the path ahead with your gift.
Protect Land and Water
From towering forests and wild lakes in the Northwoods to vibrant prairies and wetlands in the south, nature in Wisconsin is abundant, diverse, and beautiful. For more than 60 years, The Nature Conservancy has protected these special places across the state that we cherish and rely on.
We continue to look for opportunities to protect, restore and manage a network of high-quality lands and waters in Wisconsin that support a diverse array of plants and animals and provide all of us with important services from cleaning our air and water to mitigating the damaging impacts of flooding.
Resilient and Connected Lands Prioritized
In Wisconsin and around the world, demands on land and water are increasing. Globally, only five percent of the natural lands at high risk of development are protected.
Meanwhile, nature is on the move like never before in history. Each decade, plants and animals are shifting an average of 11 miles north and 36 feet higher in elevation to get away from overly warm temperatures, flooding and altered habitats. We must do more, faster, to help nature adapt to climate change.
Over the last decade, TNC mapped the locations of places across the United States that are important for protecting biodiversity, storing carbon, filtering water and providing pathways for plants and animals to migrate as the climate changes.
This important conservation tool became available in 2020. We are sharing it with others and using it to focus our conservation efforts on those places where we can have the most impact, including the Baraboo Hills, the southern Kettle Moraine and Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
2,000 Acres Protected
During the campaign, TNC has protected nearly 2,000 acres of land in Wisconsin through purchases and conservation easements. In Door County, for example, we bought and then donated 362 acres of coastal boreal forest to the State of Wisconsin in 2019. This almost doubled the size of the Baileys Harbor Boreal Forest and Wetlands State Natural Area, which is a globally important wetland for migratory birds and rare species like the dwarf lake iris and the Hine’s emerald dragonfly.
Habitat Restoration Intensified
Once special places are protected, we restore and manage them to keep them healthy. In the Baraboo Hills, we intensified efforts on our land to restore the oak forests, one of the most endangered habitats in North America. We’ve removed shade-tolerant species used prescribed fire on 825 acres to set the stage for acorns to germinate and take root and for oak seedlings to have plenty of light to compete well.
Prairies, savannas, wetlands, and other habitats need fire to thrive. We work with agency partners through the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council and the Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium to share information, provide training opportunities and implement collaborative burns — resulting in more than 30,000 acres of prescribed fire each year.
Address Climate Change
Our climate is changing and, along with it, so are the habitats that plants and animals rely on to thrive. Wisconsin is already experiencing 2.1 degrees of warming and a 15 percent increase in rainfall since the 1950s, and models predict higher temperatures, more frequent storms, and other climate impacts in the coming decades. Climate change also puts all the lands and waters we have protected in our 60-year history at risk.
Science tells us there is still time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and that nature can play a role. For example, TNC research suggests maximizing the use of cover crops in the state may be the same as removing 550,000 cars from the road each year. We are committed to addressing climate change by demonstrating the power of forests, grasslands, and agricultural lands to capture carbon; partnering with cities to make communities more resilient; and advocating for renewable energy policies that create jobs and benefit the economy.
Climate Resilient Forests
In 2019, in collaboration with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), TNC produced a field guide for climate-adapted forest management in the Northwoods. This guide was published online and distributed to county, state, and federal agencies across Wisconsin. It was well-received, and we are developing a similar guide for southern Wisconsin forests. Currently, we’re working with NIACS and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to incorporate climate risk assessment into their forest management software. These tools help foresters consider climate risks, so they can plan and adapt for the future.
Promoting Renewable Energy
There is broad support for phasing carbon out of energy production and consumption in Wisconsin. To accelerate this transition, we connected with leading Wisconsin businesses to learn about their experiences. Based on our findings, in 2021 we published a report—Wisconsin’s Renewable Energy Future—that contains information about the current state of renewable energy in Wisconsin, businesses’ renewable energy programs and plans, and the challenges and opportunities they see. We’re sharing the report broadly in 2021 to help advance the renewable energy transition and change the dialogue around climate change in Wisconsin by focusing on the benefits of clean energy to people and our economy.
Provide Food/Water Sustainably
Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, with more than 7,000 dairy farms and nearly 500,000 jobs in production agriculture. Farmers care deeply for the lands that sustain their livelihoods and all of us. As the global population continues to grow, farmers are under increasing pressure to produce more food while also protecting the environment. Fortunately, farmers also hold a key to achieving both of those goals—rebuilding healthy soil, which is crucial for food production, clean and abundant water, and a stable climate.
The Nature Conservancy has a long history of working with farmers in Wisconsin, and, as part of the Wisconsin’s Path campaign, we have significantly expanded that work to contribute to a more sustainable agricultural industry.
Roadmap Created to Increase Sustainability
With our partners at Farmers for Sustainable Food and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, we created a new resource guide for farmers who want to work together to improve soil health and water quality on their farms. In 2020, TNC and our partners supported 211 farmers who put conservation practices on almost 240,000 acres of land. Many of them shared what they learned and the environmental and economic benefits they are seeing with other interested farmers through on-farm demos and field days.
Build Healthy Cities
Today, nearly one-third of Wisconsin residents live in the Milwaukee metro area; by 2050, more than two-thirds of all people will live in cities. As urban populations grow, it is essential to connect residents with nature and the many benefits it provides—such as improving water quality, offering shade to cool the air, and providing places to get outdoors.
As part of the Wisconsin’s Path campaign, TNC is launching an urban conservation program, bringing conservation strategies and expertise honed in more remote and rural parts of our state to complement the work of urban partners who are improving the health and well-being of city residents while helping create more equitable, resilient cities.
Flood Resiliency Project Launched
The East River, which flows into Green Bay, has a history of big flood events. In 2019, 50 homes were condemned following one of them. TNC and a host of partners launched an effort in 2020, to help communities in the watershed work together to assess how prepared they are for a wetter future with more and bigger storms. TNC Fellow Blake Neumann is coordinating the effort, which will create a framework that municipal planners and decision-makers can use to guide the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the watershed.
Connect People and Nature
Young and old, urban and rural dwellers, community volunteers and industry leaders, hikers and hunters—though we may express our values in different ways, many of us recognize that nature and human well-being are interwoven. How do we engage more people in conserving the lands and waters we all depend on?
Through the Wisconsin’s Path campaign, we are creating opportunities for people of all ages to explore the outdoors and advocate for good environmental policies and programs. We’re also investing in finding and training the next generation of conservation leaders.
Investing in the Next Generation
Over the past four years, we mentored 38 new conservation champions through our intern and fellowship programs, providing them with new skills and learning from them in turn.
We have hired students and young professionals as interns and fellows for more than 20 years. These young people get paid, hands-on experiences in a wide variety of activities in the conservation field. The positions are opportunities to engage youth from varied backgrounds, and TNC has partnered with groups such as Milwaukee County Parks and La Causa, a Hispanic-based nonprofit that operates a charter in Milwaukee, to expand the reach of the program.
The Way Forward in Wisconsin
So, what’s ahead for The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin?
As we move into the final year of our Wisconsin’s Path campaign, the challenges are urgent and complex, and our work will continue with the support of our staff, volunteers, partners, and people like you. Here are just a few of the exciting things to come:
Protect Land and Water:
Support Statewide Land Stewardship
To increase the pace and scale of land management across the state, we are deploying a new mobile land management crew in 2021. This unit of four land stewards will concentrate efforts on one geographic region at a time to address each preserve’s most urgent need at the optimal time of the year for active management. The crew will perform critical conservation practices on preserves, including invasive species removal, prairie and tree plantings, prescribed burns, trail maintenance and species monitoring.
Protect the Desert of Wisconsin in Spring Green
Known as the Wisconsin Desert for its sandy soil and prickly pear cacti, the Spring Green Preserve is a place where forest meets bluff and bluff levels off into plains and dunes. Among the wildlife found at Spring Green are rare tiger beetles, meadowlarks and other grassland birds, and a variety of lizards. One of the most significant threats to this unique landscape is habitat fragmentation. We are strategically protecting land to create a 1,300-acre expanse of prairie and oak woodland at this one-of-a-kind landscape.
Protect Coastal Habitat on the Door Peninsula
One of our priority conservation sites in Wisconsin is the Door Peninsula, a beloved coastal Lake Michigan landscape known for its rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, coniferous forests, and globally-significant wetlands. We are expanding our Shivering Sands, North Bay-Mud Lake and Kangaroo Lake preserves to help protect critical habitat for native fish, rare species like the dwarf lake iris and federally-endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly, and thousands of birds that depend on them for nesting and stopover habitat during spring and fall migration.
Address Climate Change:
Storing Carbon with Conservation
TNC is working to integrate carbon sequestration into land management plans on preserves. With NIACS, we are planning a pilot study at the Newell and Ann Meyer Preserve in 2021, which protects the headwaters of the Mukwonago River as well as the surrounding uplands. The pilot will integrate carbon storage into land management objectives as we restore and maintain a high-quality wetland complex immediately surrounding the headwaters, and an upland community complex of oak savannas, oak woodlands, and prairie.
Connect People and Nature:
Improve Access to Wisconsin Preserves
We are working to make some preserves more accessible for our visitors to enjoy, whether they hike, run, cross country ski, birdwatch or simply take in the scenery. We will improve parking and trailhead access and install a 100-foot boardwalk at Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area, which is known for its nearly 10 miles of undeveloped shoreline along 15 wild lakes and ponds.
Provide Food & Water Sustainably:
Increase Adoption of Conservation Practices on Farms
We have set a goal to collaborate with organizations and agencies throughout the state to help implement 3.5 million acres of no-till farming by 2025. Building on our successful partnership with Farmers for Sustainable Food to support farmers putting more soil conservation practices on their farm fields, we are teaming up with Syngenta and Dairy Management Inc. to bring incentive payments to more Midwestern farmers who implement sustainable agricultural practices. This means farms will plant more acres of cover crops and commit more acres to no-till farming so they can feed our communities while improving water quality and building soil health on their agricultural lands.
Build Healthy Cities:
Launch an Urban Conservation Program in Milwaukee
After a year-long planning process in the Greater Milwaukee region, we are hiring an urban conservation manager who will build on that work with community leaders to find ways to address conservation challenges, especially in low‑income neighborhoods.
Modeling the collaborative spirit of our East River resiliency project in the Green Bay area, a first charge for the Urban Conservation Manager will be to jointly plan actions with stakeholders and partners—including community health organizations and other community groups, utilities, municipalities, and environmental nonprofits—to address obstacles and capitalize on opportunities to implement nature-based solutions to improve water quality and climate resilience.
Ways to Give
There are many ways to give to The Nature Conservancy that aren’t a cash gift or pledge. Many of TNC’s supporters give in other ways that better suit their individual situations. Four of the most common are reflected on these pages. Like other charitable gifts, they can provide significant tax advantages. If you are interested in having a conversation with a member of our Development Team about these or other options for giving to TNC, please reach out to Katy Coelho, Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-316-6410.
Gifts for Today
The threats to our natural world have never been greater and the need for bold solutions has never been more urgent. Your gift to Wisconsin’s Path campaign will build on our 60-year history and put the best conservation science into action right now. Make your Wisconsin’s Path gift today
The Legacy Club
Legacy Club members—those who include TNC in their estate plans—are critical to long-term conservation success and stability. More than 20 percent of the funds TNC raises globally for conservation come from Legacy Club gifts. Learn more about the legacy club.
Donor Advised Fund
A cost-effective and efficient alternative to establishing a private foundation, this flexible fund represents a commitment to TNC that also preserves the donor’s ability to choose how and when distributions are made, at their own pace. Learn more about Donor Advised Funds.
Charitable IRA Rollover
Some donors are surprised to find that they can put their IRAs to work for nature! Direct distributions from one’s IRA to TNC can be made without incurring income tax on the withdrawal, while also protecting Wisconsin’s lands and waters. Learn about Charitable IRA donations.
Bing and DeeDee Rikkers
Bing and DeeDee Rikkers have long been inspired by nature. Bing grew up in Waupun, Wisconsin, where he fondly remembers his time as a teen serving as the nature director for a Boy Scout camp in the area. DeeDee is from Madison, Wisconsin, and spent time as a child riding horses through prairies and forests. They met as undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin, married in 1966, and later moved to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1984.
“We first became aware of the wonderful work and mission of The Nature Conservancy when we lived in Nebraska,” said Bing. “Our home was adjacent to a beautiful, protected 1,700 acres called the Fontenelle Forest bounded by the Missouri River,” DeeDee added.
Bing and DeeDee became TNC members in 1990, around the same time DeeDee began volunteering on the board of TNC’s Nebraska chapter. They eventually found their way back to Madison when Bing accepted a position as Chair of Surgery at the University of Wisconsin. Now in retirement, Bing and DeeDee spend as much time outdoors as they can. They are avid birders, and Bing has now photographed 570 different bird species while on trips around the country and the world.
The Rikkers are also thinking about the conservation legacy they would like to leave. They are members of TNC’s Warren Knowles Society, which recognizes Wisconsin members who make annual gifts of $1,000 or more. And they have joined the Legacy Club by including TNC as a primary beneficiary of their IRA. Bing and DeeDee have arranged for their Legacy gift to support the highest conservation need in Wisconsin, so years from now they can support whatever work will maximize their impact on conservation.
“We are so impressed that TNC not only buys and permanently protects land, but that you form partnerships with landowners and local partners to better manage the property. Protecting these places has only become more important to us as climate change increasingly becomes a threat to nature. We’ve included TNC in our estate plans because we want to help protect the world’s outdoor spaces for our children, grandchildren and future generations yet to come.”
Jim Schleif and Bill Morley
Some supporters make “blended” gifts that include both outright and deferred components so they can support the causes they care about now and create a legacy for the future. That’s exactly what Jim Schleif and Bill Morley decided to do with their gift to the Wisconsin’s Path campaign.
Jim, who has had careers working for nonprofits and later in real estate, and Bill, who spent his career in information technology, have recently turned their focus toward increasing their volunteer involvement with organizations like TNC as well as thinking about how they can realize their philanthropic vision now and well into the future. They created a trust to direct their current giving, which included making a campaign gift to Wisconsin’s Path. Jim and Bill also supported our campaign goal for the future when they became Legacy Club members by naming TNC as a beneficiary of that trust.
“We have immense confidence in The Nature Conservancy to be innovative stewards of our legacy gifts. It is our dream that TNC will continue to lead, lifted by diverse voices, through an evolving entrepreneurial approach founded in science, focused on reversing the issues threatening nature we have witnessed in our own lifetimes. Our gift comes with these hopes: that climate change will be conquered; cities will be healthier and green; our oceans and waters made cleaner; sustainable, healthier agricultural practices will be second nature; biodiversity will be gained; the world will be powered by alternative energies; and, more sacred lands will be preserved. For these very same reasons and hopes, we have invested in the Wisconsin’s Path Campaign at a level that made our hearts full while also carefully considering a significant gift that would create change today.”
While Jim and Bill like spending time outside at city parks near their home in Milwaukee, they also like to get away from the city. They enjoy Wisconsin’s state parks, traveling to awe-inspiring places around the world, and taking in the peace and quiet of their Forest County cabin along the Lily River.
Protecting nature will take all of us
Nature is our life support system. Just like we take care of our physical and mental health, we need to take care of Wisconsin’s lakes, forests, wetlands, and other special places so they can take care of us.
Nature also reminds us that uncertainty and change are inevitable—but the ability to adapt allows plants, animals, and people to adjust and even thrive.
Four years ago, we could not have envisioned just how much we’d need to adapt to new ways of thinking and living through a pandemic. But we did know we were facing immense challenges like a changing climate, increased threats to our water and flooding in our cities.
The science was clear, we needed to do more for nature. In 2017, we launched Wisconsin’s Path, a major fundraising effort to raise the resources needed to protect even more land and water across the state, as well as launch new initiatives to tackle climate change, provide food and water sustainably and address urban conservation challenges.
As you’ve read in the pages of this newsletter, through the Wisconsin’s Path campaign we have already raised more than $65 million for conservation – representing a combination of gifts to fund the work we’re doing today and new planned giving commitments to ensure support for our work in the future.
As a Nature Conservancy member, you are an integral part of the milestones we’ve achieved. We are grateful for your support and our work would not be possible without you!
As we look ahead, the pandemic and the racial justice movement are also prompting another kind of adaptation, opening up difficult but necessary conversations about people who do not benefit equally from nature. Protecting nature so that it can thrive and protect all of us is going to require complex solutions and all voices at the table.
Strength through Diversity is one of five priorities in our current strategic plan. To strengthen our ability to deliver on our conservation strategies, we are working with a consultant to create a multi-year diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan. That plan will guide investments in DEI training, foster organizational strength through collaborations with diverse communities and help us better recruit and retain a diverse board and staff.
As we move into the final year of our Wisconsin’s Path campaign, the challenges continue to be urgent and complex. Solutions will require science, innovation, and a variety of perspectives.
There is no better time than right now to take action for nature. Thank you for joining us on this path to create a world where nature and all people thrive.
Elizabeth A. Koehler, State Director
The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin