By Charlie Luthin, Wisconsin Wetlands Association
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on January 9 that affected “isolated wetlands” throughout the country, Wisconsin’s state legislators and conservation community have taken fast action to “fill the gap” for wetland protection. The Senate Environment Committee held a public hearing on February 1, and passed by a 5-0 vote a new wetlands bill that was sent to the Senate floor only one month following the SWANCC decision. The bill passed swiftly through the Senate with no difficulty, and is now in the State Assembly.
The bill is intended to “retain the status quo” on protection of wetlands that existed prior to January 9th , by giving the state jurisdiction over wetlands that are no longer under the authority of the Army Corps of Engineers. Since Wisconsin has rules that pertain to wetlands that are generally a finer filter than what the Corps works under, this new bill does effectively plug the regulatory hole. The law would be a “trigger mechanism,” that follows from a Corps determination that it does NOT have jurisdiction over a wetland project, it would automatically be deferred to the State for its review under our NR 103 water quality certification program.
The environmental and conservation community have been united in gathering enormous public support for a wetland law. A large number of organizations with a combined membership of 250,000 has already signed onto a letter urging the Legislature to take swift and decisive action to protect our wetlands. The hunting and fishing community have been the most outspoken in favor of reclaiming protection of the important isolated wetlands of the state.