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Wisconsin Lakes Joins Coalition Calling for WDNR Aid on Local Wakesports Ordinances

On behalf of four other organizations, WI Lakes appears before Natural Resources Board offering suggestions on how the Dept. of Natural Resources could aid in local ordinance development

By Michael Engleson, Wisconsin Lakes

Dan Butkus delivers a WI Lakes statement from a podium in front of the WI Natural Resources Board
WI Lakes President Dan Butkus presents a statement to the Natural Resources Board, May 22, 2024. Photo Credit: Michael Engleson

Wisconsin Lakes, speaking for a coalition of four other groups, recently asked the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to take a more public role in educating local governments on their ability to pass ordinances to manage the impact of wake sports on lakes and rivers in the state. WI Lakes president Dan Butkus delivered a joint statement to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and DNR leadership at the NRB meeting last Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

You can read the full statement here.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin’s Green Fire, Last Wilderness Alliance, and Lakes at Stake Wisconsin joined Wisconsin Lakes in calling on the department to take an up front role speaking on local authority to regulate wake activities, while acknowledging the job the department is already doing and the resource challenges it faces in terms of personnel and funding. 

Specific suggestions, some of which are already being done at least to some extent by the agency, included:

  • Designating one or two staff persons as agency contacts regarding wake-related ordinance development
  • Providing guidance that properly written ordinances regulating artificial wake creation are legal
  • Offering model ordinance templates for wakesports
  • Developing a checklist for local officials that provides an easy to follow flow chart for ordinance development
  • Providing regular online informational sessions on wake-related ordinance development, perhaps in conjunction with our groups

Responses from members of the Natural Resources Board were generally positive. The full NRB meeting including testimony from other individuals commenting on wakesports is available for viewing online.

For DNR’s part, Wisconsin Public Radio reported here, that DNR Deputy Secretary Steven Little said the agency plans to provide an informational briefing to the board about the issue to inform any potential actions on the matter. “What we want to do is to provide solutions that are science-and fact-based, that are going to be effective in their outcomes,” Little said.

Local governments are granted authority to pass ordinances regulating boating activities. Ordinances must comply with state statutes and go through a non-binding review by DNR. Such ordinances can restrict or ban wakesports such as wakesurfing. The enhanced wakes created by wakeboats and other watercraft using wake enhancing tools can damage shorelines and lakebottoms, as well as cause safety concerns for other lake users.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board  sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources and exercises authority and responsibility in accordance with state laws.