Wisconsin wetlands legislation threatens state economy, outdoors enthusiasts

Legislation would make it easier for developers to build on wetland habitats

MADISON, Wisconsin – Jan. 30, 2018 – Wisconsin’s wetland habitats, vital to the state economy and outdoor lifestyles of millions of residents, are threatened under newly introduced state legislation.

The new bill breaks a pledge by some state lawmakers to create new wetlands for Wisconsin sportsmen and women.

On Oct. 18, Assembly Bill 547 was introduced seeking to exempt all of Wisconsin’s geographically isolated wetlands from the current permitting process under the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, to make it easier for developers to fill and build atop these habitats.

Rep. Jim Steineke this week proposed a substitute amendment to the original bill which looks dramatically different from what the public had an opportunity to comment on last December at the public hearing for AB 547.

The sub-amendment contains a new wetland permit exemption for wetlands up to one acre surrounding the state’s incorporated areas, sanitary districts and towns with sewer services. Those who want to fill and drain these wetlands would not be required to mitigate.

The sub-amendment is anticipated to be voted on Thursday, Feb 1, at an executive session of the Assembly Regulatory Reform Committee.

Bill authors repeatedly assured the public since the legislation’s introduction that the bill would create more high-quality wetlands for Wisconsin sportsmen and women. The amendment breaks this pledge and would result in a net loss of wetlands throughout the state.

The conservation community has provided several workable alternatives that address permit challenges faced by the development community, but the legislation does not reflect the guidance and feedback given. Conservation and development can go hand in hand, but the amendment does not achieve an acceptable balance.

Isolated wetlands were granted protection in 2001 by a unanimous and bipartisan vote of Wisconsin’s legislature after federal regulations were weakened.

Wetlands help sustain and produce the abundant wildlife Wisconsin residents enjoy for outdoor heritage and industry. According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin has 1.5 million hunters and anglers who support 55,000 jobs and spend $4 billion annually in the state pursuing these outdoor activities.

“Ducks Unlimited has invested more than $30 million to conserve 120,000 acres of wetlands in Wisconsin,” said Nels Swenson, Ducks Unlimited Wisconsin state policy chair. “This legislation risks setting back all the gains for waterfowl and wetland habitat Ducks Unlimited’s 35,000 Wisconsin members have helped achieve over the years.”

An estimated 70 percent of the mallards harvested by Wisconsin duck hunters are produced in Wisconsin using the type of wetland habitats that would be subject to destruction if this proposed bill is passed into law.

“This legislation represents an undue and misguided attack on Wisconsin’s natural resources,” Swenson said.

The sportsmen-conservation community remains devoted to protecting these important habitats.

“Pheasants Forever and its 31 chapters have enhanced nearly 170,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the state of Wisconsin, including wetlands,” said Marty Moses, Pheasants Forever’s Wisconsin state coordinator. “Wetlands are an important component of Wisconsin’s habitat mosaic for grassland birds, and the state should be striving to protect these diverse areas for future generations and abundant wildlife.”

Media Contact:
Kyle Rorah
(734) 623-2030