A bill has been proposed which could make it easier to develop state wetlands in Wisconsin. If passed, Assembly Bill 547 would remove permitting requirements for wetlands which are not federally protected.
Typically, only wetlands next to navigable waters are under federal protection leaving isolated wetlands and ephemeral or seasonal wetlands under state jurisdiction.
According to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, there are approximately one million acres of non-federal wetlands in Wisconsin, which make up an estimated 20 percent of all wetlands in the state.
Jacob Straub, Kennedy-Grohne Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation and assistant professor of wildlife ecology, said that the bill,”…would remove the only protection that these nonfederal wetlands have.”
Straub said that these wetlands are not necessarily lower quality just because they are not regulated federally. “Without a doubt they are functioning wetlands that serve the same purpose as federal wetlands,” Straub said. He went on to say that wetlands provide a range of functions including wildlife habitat, flood control and groundwater recharge.
The bill’s proponents, claim that the current DNR permitting process slows development. They also contend that wetlands are already protected under a state law which require 1.2 acres of wetland created for every acre developed. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Roger Roth, one the senators sponsoring the bill, argued that Wisconsin is one of the few states which requires extra protection for non-federal wetlands.
Straub said that replacing wetlands in a different location to mitigate development is not as simple as it may appear. Since wetlands take thousands of years to develop, man-made wetlands rarely have the same functional value. Straub said this functional value, the wetland’s functionality and diversity of wildlife and plants, is more important than the amount of acreage.
The bill has received support from business interests such as the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Lucas Vebber Director of Environmental and Energy Policy for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, called the bill “…a true win-win for all Wisconsinites.”
But environmental groups view the bill in a less positive light. Many environmental organizations are concerned that the bill will result in more wetland loss.
The Wisconsin DNR reports that Wisconsin has lost approximately 50 percent of its historic wetland area, while its southern neighbor Illinois has lost 90 percent. A joint statement issued by six sportsmen’s groups referred to the bill as “…extremely damaging to the hunting, fishing and trapping community…”
Straub said that these isolated wetlands could be better habitat for amphibians than those protected federally. “These amphibian populations really depend on ephemeral ponds and wetlands, one reason is they breed in those areas, and the deeper lakes and deeper wetlands that have fish are not very good for amphibians because the fish eat the amphibian eggs but these non-federally protected ephemeral and isolated shallow wetlands are classic amphibian habitat,” Straub said.
Environment Sectional Editor