Wisconsin Lakes

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WI Lakes

This time its the wetlands…

Bill would exempt 20% of Wisconsin’s wetlands from permitting requirements

By Michael Engleson, Wisconsin Lakes

A bill exempting “non-federal” wetlands from Wisconsin’s wetland permitting requirements is set to receive a legislative hearing on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at the State Capitol in Madison. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment will hold a joint hearing with the Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform at 11:00am 12/21/17 in room 411 South of the Capitol on AB547/SB600.

The bill, whose Senate version is authored by Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and Assembly version by Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), would exempt most wetlands that are not connected to other waters from the permitting requirements of the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), though mitigation would be required on most. Disconnected or “isolated” wetlands are often referred to as “non-federal” because they do not fall under federal regulatory authority.

In addition to exempting all such “non-federal” wetlands, the bill also removes “artificial” wetlands from the overall definition of wetlands, which means those sorts of wetlands would not only be exempt from permitting, but also from mitigation requirements. “Artificial wetlands” are defined as those created by human manipulation of land and water where there is no historical evidence of having wetland characteristics (unless they fall under federal regulation or were created as part of a wetland mitigation project).

The bill also provides a time limit on how long DNR can hold payments made by permittees in lieu of doing actual mitigation to two years, and authorizes DNR to seek, and administer if granted, delegation authority to administer permit programs for fill to navigable waters including federal wetlands.

Wisconsin Lakes is OPPOSED to this bill.

According to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, isolated, “non-federal” wetlands make-up a whopping 20% of all wetlands in the state. Even though those waters may not have an obviously direct surface water connection to other waters, they may well still be connected through groundwater pathways. And of course, such wetlands play important roles in limiting flooding impacts, slowing water flows and absorbing pollutants and contaminants, and providing important wildlife habitat. Even though the bill keeps mitigation requirements in place, without the oversight of a permitting program it seems likely that many of these waters would be degraded or suffer harm.

While we agree that some changes to the way Wisconsin handles artificial wetlands may be warranted, this bill paints too broad of a brush, and, as it seems is true with so much legislation these days, is running its way through the legislature far too quickly. We need to slow down, look to the experts, and come to a workable consensus, rather than rush to pass something for political convenience.


I. Contact your own legislators and let them know your opinion on AB547/SB600.
Don’t know who represents you in the legislature? Find out at legis.wisconsin.gov by using the “Who Are My Legislators” tab.

II. If able, come to Madison and testify at the hearing, but even if you can’t make it, consider contacting the members of the committees reviewing this bill.

  • For contact info on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, click here
  • For contact info on the Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform, click here