By: Derek Strohl
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is developing a tool for local governments to use to restore, manage, and protect wetlands in the Milwaukee River basin, and grassroots groups can encourage their local leaders to take advantage of this opportunity. The DNR, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is using geographic information systems (GIS) to develop tools that can use existing computerized natural resource data to find the locations of the basin’s restorable wetlands. These “GIS Decision Support Tools” will also go one step further and identify the potential benefits of restoring particular wetlands. The DNR’s next step is to ground-truth the output, further assess the restorability of identified sites and support local governments in using the tool in their land use planning. If this approach proves to be useful to local governments and conservation organizations in planning for wetlands restoration, then it is likely to be replicated in other basins throughout Wisconsin.
This represents two important opportunities for grassroots groups in the Milwaukee River basin. First, the DNR will be seeking proposals from local agencies to ground-truth the data that make up the wetland assessment tool. This means that the DNR will pay for local agencies to gather wetland data up close, by visiting and monitoring sites, in order to hone the data that have been collected from existing maps. DNR has selected three local cooperators to work with in Ozaukee County, Sheboygan County and Washington County. These cooperators will test and refine the maps and decision support tools developed in the project. The specific cooperators are:
1) Ozaukee County Planning, Resources and Land Management Department in conjunction with the Ulao Creek Partnership and Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. They will be working in the Ulao Creek and Mole Creek Subwatersheds – Andrew Struck is the contact.
2) Washington County Planning and Parks Department, Land & Water Conservation Division, with other divisions of their Department (GIS, Land Use, Planning) will be working in the Quass Creek and Upper Cedar Creek Subwatersheds – Blaine Delzer is the contact from LWCD; their GIS person is Eric Damkott, planner is Deb Sielski.
3) Sheboygan County Land & Water Dept and Planning & Resources Dept will be working in the Mink Creek Subwatershed. Eric Fehlhaber and Chris Ertman are the contacts.
The second opportunity for local groups is to encourage their local leaders to use the wetland assessment tool in their Smart Growth plans, which are land use plans that are required of municipalities under Wisconsin law. When the tools are fully developed and tested citizens can present the wetland assessment as a resource that can help communities to develop sound plans that will ensure wetland restoration and protection.
The DNR has rolled out the red carpet for local governments to gain from restored wetlands and for citizens to take an active role in the process, and we applaud them for their innovative work.