Bill Limits DNR Oversight Over Isolated Wetlands

Oct 3, 2017

Credit National Park Service

A Republican-backed bill making the rounds in Madison would take away the authority of the DNR to assess the ecological impact of isolated wetlands before they could be developed.

A spokesperson for a wetlands group says the Northwoods could be deeply impacted.

The bills' backers say a 2001 bipartisan bill signed by Republican Governor Scott McCallum has become a barrier to development for property owners and people in the construction business on what they say is marginal land. The proposed law requires mitigation.

But Erin O'Brien of the Wisconsin Wetland Association says the effort ignores the critical function such wetlands have in the ecosystem.

She says about one million acres statewide could be affected, with a large number of those acres here in the Northwoods..

".....these non-federally-protected wetlands are regionally abundant. Particularly in northern Wisconsin and in northern Wisconsin's wooded landscapes. One of the challenges we have is they are not well-recognized. People may not even know they are standing in a wetland when they see them. They are critically important, though small individually, they are abundant on the landscape. The most important service they provide is water storage which protects downstream communities from floods and flood damage...."

O'Brien says while not directly connected to water bodies, the many small depressions on the landscape capture and slowly release rain or snow melt.

Without the isolated wetlands, the water builds up and moves quickly, eroding the landscape and carrying sediment and nutrients downstream....

"many of the waterways that are impaired, and in northern Wisconsin specifically, is because water is moving too quickly. We've already hydrologically changed our landscape and sediment is one of our major sources of impairment of those waters. So these wetlands are not just keeping water, but soil on the land where it belongs...."

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the bill strikes a balance between protecting wetlands and removing an economic impediment, saying a majority of the time, someone wouldn't know it's a wetland.

The DNR estimates there are 5.3 million acres of wetlands remaining in Wisconsin.