Skip to content

The Conservation Fund

Type: Below Market Investments, Exited Investments, High Impact Investments

Topic: Water

Status: Exited

Low-interest loans from McKnight allow The Conservation Fund to join forested land into continuous, high-quality conservation landscapes. Preserving wetlands and forests protects the Mississippi River and its tributaries, such as the St. Croix River.

investment icon


$5 million five-year loan at 2%; originated in 2016. Paid in full in 2022.

$6.5 million four-year loan at 2%; originated in 2011. Paid in full in 2015.

rationale icon


Revolving loan to purchase strategic wetlands and forests along the Mississippi River and its tributaries to ensure permanent conservation, thereby enhancing water quality.

returns icon


First Loan Successful. Completed in 2015.

Second loan is on track.

The Conservation Fund purchased and protected 113,492 acres (the size of Guam) with high ecological benefit with a fair market value of $61.3 million. Two projects were sold with permanent conservation provisions, in Wisconsin and Louisiana. A third project will allow sustainable timbering and prevent subdivision; it hosts one of Wisconsin’s largest wolf packs.

lessons learned icon

Lessons Learned

Support Effective Organization: Because critical habitat protection is essential, and because The Conservation Fund used the first loan so effectively, we issued a second $5 million loan.

New Approaches are Important: A healthy and resilient Mississippi River system requires changing farming practice on millions of acres across the Midwest. McKnight is realizing that acre-by-acre conservation is an important tool, but is too costly and complex to achieve the needed scale for the Mississippi River. Alongside land protection, McKnight is exploring how to grow consumer demand for soil and water conservation on working lands. We also support company efforts to improve sustainability in agricultural supply chains.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Coldsnap Photography

Disclaimer of Endorsement: The McKnight Foundation does not endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or service providers.