Isolated Wetland Protection in Wisconsin

Isolated Wetland Protection in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, the January 2001 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) triggered a flurry of activity. Legislators quickly drafted a very simple bill that states that dredge-and-fill projects in non-federal wetlands are still subject to Wisconsin’s water quality certification process. The Corps sent “non-jurisdiction” letters to the applicants of wetland projects affecting more than 99 hectares, stating in effect,“Your wetland is an isolated wetland, over which the Corps no longer has jurisdiction.” We lost more wetlands in those four months than we usually do in a year.

Then-Governor Scott McCallum, several legislators, 57 of our 72 counties, and a coalition of more than 70 conservation organizations representing more than 400,000 Wisconsin citizens demanded protection for our isolated wetlands. Wisconsin Wetlands Association spearheaded the campaign by hiring a lobbyist and printing and distributing thousands of postcards that citizens sent to their lawmakers and to the Governor.

The campaign succeeded, as Wisconsin Act 6 was signed on May 7, 2001, four months after the SWANCC decision. This bill simply grants the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) authority to apply its water quality certification standards to non-jurisdictional projects. The bill gives the DNR enforcement power, specifies the use of the 1987 Manual in delineating wetlands, and includes exemptions similar to the 404 program. This bill maintained the status quo for wetland protection. The bill’s only compromise is the requirement that the DNR review a permit within 30 days and issue a decision within 120 days of receipt of the complete application.

Our candid discussions with the builders community not only helped us to win this landmark bill; it also has won us a long-term working relationship with new partners, as we have since cosponsored a wetland restoration workshop with the Wisconsin Builders Association. The moral of the story, never repeated enough: invite all stakeholders to the table.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.