With its roots in farmland protection since 1988, by the time Wisconsin Farmland Conservancy had changed its name to West Wisconsin Land Trust in 2002, over 4,500 acres of farms, forests and open space had been protected. The statewide emphasis of saving the family farm gave way to a mission of protecting open space in an approximately 10-county area of western Wisconsin. As the momentum for private land protection grew, so grew the area in which WWLT worked stretching from the Black River in the south to the shores of Lake Superior, covering 20 counties.
WWLT has now helped protect more than 30,000 acres of land and as of 2012 holds 175 conservation easements. These easements protect approximately 20,000 acres. We also own six small preserves, these sites total a little over 500 acres. WWLT has also assisted with a number of other projects where land ended up in the ownership of a conservation partner such as a habitat organization or a government agency.
Many of these lands and easements were purchased with public funds, particularly the Wisconsin Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund which is managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA funding have also been frequently utilized.
During 2011, as WWLT approached its 25th year, the organization engaged in an extensive review of its past programs and activities. It examined the need for conservation work in the region, the work of other public and private organizations meeting local conservation needs, and the role it should play moving forward.
The board formally re-adopted WWLT’s mission to “preserve the natural character of western Wisconsin” while adding its vision for the future. The board also decided to continue to work in three ecological landscapes of the region, but focus its conservation programs more narrowly on selected natural and scenic areas.
The board also reconfirmed its perpetual commitment to managing, monitoring and protecting the lands it already holds under easement.
There comes a time in the life of every non-profit that calls out for renewal. In 2012 we answered that call as we welcomed a new Executive Director and several new board members. In addition, with the assistance of a nationally recognized consulting firm, we completely revised nearly all of our operating policies and procedures. We stand poised to continue to make a difference in land protection in our region and to thrive as a model conservation organization.
Our challenges include building an increasingly solid financial foundation to support our general operations and to support our commitment for protecting these lands in perpetuity. We believe that as we continue to deliver on our mission our support will continue to grow.
“In the last analysis, resource conservation for recreation and wildlife needs or any other facet of the program before us, it is well to remember that the basic resource we are conserving is the human spirit and the potential happiness of a people.”–Sigurd Olson