WisconsinELI State Wetland Protection Status, Trends, & Model Approaches
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Original Wetland Acreage Remaining Wetland Acreage Acreage Lost % Lost
10,000,000 5,385,290
(15.5% of total)
4,614,710 -47%


Wisconsin Wetlands: The classification system used by the Dept. of Natural Resources to map Wisconsin wetlands recognizes seven major classes of wetlands; aquatic bed, moss (moss-lichen wetland), wet meadow (emergent wetland), scrub-shrub, forested, flats/unvegetated wet soils (unconsolidated-shore wetland), and open water. Common types of wetlands in Wisconsin include swamps, marshes, and peatlands.

(Please click on heading below to go to that section.)

Summary Features Regulation Water Quality Standards Mitigation Monitoring and Assessment Restoration Public/Private Partnerships





Overall Program:

The Department of Natural Resources regulates most physical alterations to state “navigable” waters (Chapters 30 and 31, Stats.) including wetlands.

Water quality certification is required for all activities effecting state “navigable” waters, non-federal wetlands and Corps Section 404 permits. Specific water quality standards for wetlands were adopted in 1991.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers s. 404 nationwide permits are suspended in Wisconsin and a statewide general permit adopted in their place.

State mandated, locally administered shoreland, wetland and floodplain zoning applies to areas within 1000 feet of lakes and 300 feet of streams or to the landward side of the floodplain, whichever is greater.  

Innovative Features and New Programs/Initiatives:

Legislation authorizing consideration of compensatory mitigation in wetland permitting was passed in 2000 (1999 Wisconsin Act 147, chapter NR 350, Wisconsin Administrative Code). (PDF; Exit DNR)

Wisconsin became the first state to pass legislation in response to the U. S. Supreme Court decision in SWANCC v. Corps of Engineers. The legislation requires an applicant wishing to alter a non-federal wetland receive an individual water quality certification (2001 Wisconsin Act 6, Chapters NR 300, 351 and 352, WI. Admin.Code). (PDF, Exit DNR) An administrative rule (ch. NR 353) creating a short form  permit process for specific activities used in wetland conservation projects and a process to authorize maintenance activities by owners of existing wetlands went into effect in  2003. (PDF; Exit DNR) 

State Wetland Conservation Plan

Reversing the Loss: A Strategy for Protecting and Restoring Wetlands in Wisconsin, Wisconsin DNR Publication FH-232-2000, (PDF,   K) was completed in December 2000. Substantial progress is being made on the goals of this 6-year strategy and an annual "report card" can be viewed on the department's wetland webpage. 

No Net Loss/Net Gain Goal

The department does not have a no net loss or a net gain goal.  Department policy is established by administrative rule, ch. NR 1, and  “[I]t is the policy of the natural resources board that wetlands shall be preserved, protected, restored and managed to maintain, enhance or restore their values. The natural resources board promotes, protects, restores, enhances and preserves the quantity, quality and diversity of Wisconsin's wetlands as a critical component of ecosystems essential to the health and quality of life of our state's diverse citizenry, plants, animals and landscapes. It is in the public interest that department decisions which lead to alteration of or effects on wetlands under its jurisdiction or control are based on the intent to preserve, protect, restore and manage them for the maintenance or enhancement of their values”. 



Wetland Regulatory Statutes and Administrative Rules

Physical Alteration of Waterways. WI  Stat. Ann. ch. 30, 31. Admin. Code chs. NR 300-353. (PDF, Exit DNR) Alteration of navigable waters (defined to include many wetlands) requires an individual activity specific state permit.

Water Quality Certification. WI  Stat. Ann. Ss 227.11(2)(a), 281.11, 281.12(1) and 283.001. Admin. Code chs. NR 299 and 103. (PDF, Exit DNR) All permits and actions must meet all applicable water quality standards. An individual water quality certification is required for activities in nonfederal wetlands.

Narrative water quality standards for wetlands (ch. NR 103, WI Admin. Code) were adopted in 1991. All department permits, approvals and actions must meet all applicable water quality standards. The department conducts an active water quality certification program of federal permits and actions under the authority of Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

Shoreland Zoning, Shoreland Wetland Zoning and Floodplain Zoning, WI Stat. Ann. Sections 144.26, 59.971, 62.63 and 61.351; Admin. Code. ch. 115, 116, 117 (PDF, Exit DNR). Counties, cities, and villages must adopt zoning regulations consistent with state standards. Otherwise, the Department of Natural Resources directly regulates areas. Wetlands must be placed in "conservation'' districts.

Wetland Definition and/or Delineation; Comparability With Federal Definition

"Wetland” is defined by state statute as “an  area where water is at, near or above the land surface long enough to be capable of supporting aquatic or hydrophytic vegetation and which has soils indicative of wet conditions". Section 23.32(1), Wisconsin Statutes. 

Wetland delineation in most cases is done following the Basic Guide to Wisconsin's Wetlands and their Boundaries, WDNR Publication PUBL-WZ-029-94. (Exit DNR) The use of the 1987 Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual and associated guidance (Exit DNR) is statutorily mandated in non-federal  (SWANCC) wetlands.

Evaluation Methodology

The department accepts several methodologies including it's own Wisconsin Rapid Assessment Methodology, (PDF, MB) which is based upon the Adamus approach. 

Regulated and Exempted Activities

Shoreland Zoning Act: Draining, dredging, filling or flooding are regulated. Exemptions include: harvesting wild crops, forestry; agricultural activities not requiring dredge and fill, small structures associated with waterfowl hunting, cranberry operations, maintenance of existing drainage systems, and limited road and utility construction.

Navigable Waters Protection Act: Most grading and filling of navigable waters and adjacent wetlands (including those on the banks of navigable waters or enlargement within 500 feet) are regulated including dredging, creation of artificial waterways within 500 feet of ordinary high water mark, enlargement of existing waterways, grading of shorelines in excess of 10,000 square feet, construction of bridges and most other structures, placement of fill or pipelines, diversion of water for agriculture, and creation, alteration or removal of dams.

Special Provisions for Agriculture and Forestry

Based on state law (s 94.26) which allows the owner of land ``adopted to the culture of cranberries'' to ``build and maintain.... such dams...as shall be necessary...'' and ``such drains and ditches as shall be necessary for...'' and two recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions, the department has taken the position that Ch 30 and 31, Stats., (physical alteration laws) do not apply to cranberry culture activities except those provisions which are directly tied to the state constitution and public trust doctrine. Water quality certification is required for individual Corps permit actions. 

Penalties and Enforcement

Enforcement is by one of two mechanisms. In most cases, department conservation wardens issue civil citations and the case is prosecuted by the district attorney in the county where the violation took place. In other cases, the violations are referred to the Wisconsin Attorney General for prosecution by that office in the appropriate circuit court.

Penalties are statute specific but in most cases include possible fines of  $ 25 to $5,000 per day of violation and authority for the court to order restoration or abatement. 

Permit Tracking

All permit and water quality certifications are tracked by department designed software system.  

State General Permit (PGP or SPGP) for 404

All of the Section 404 nationwide permits were suspended and replaced by a combination of statewide regional general permits and letter-of-permission evaluation procedures (GP/LOP-98-WI). PDF, exit DNR

Another statewide programmatic general permit, GP-01-WI (exit DNR), covers certain activities for a single and complete project that is regulated by the DNR. 

Assumption of Section 404 Powers

Update of 1991 assumption study recently completed. Department would like to pursue assumption but lack of federal funding and jurisdictional differences are major blocks. 

Joint Permitting

A joint application form and joint notice with the Corps of Engineers has been in use since 1980. 

Special Area Management Plans and Advanced Identification Plans

There is a SAMP for the City of Superior and an ADID for Chiwaukee Prairie, Kenosha County. 

Role of Local Governments

Local units of government must administer state mandated shoreland, shoreland wetland and floodplain zoning. Most local units also require local zoning or construction permits for activities in wetlands and state permits and water quality certifications are not valid until the applicant has obtained all necessary local approvals. 

Staffing (Regulatory Staff)

There are 33 ful time positions authorized for the waterway and wetland permitting and water quality certificaiton program.

Water Quality Standards

Wetlands and Water Quality Standards

 ss. 281.15(2)(b), 227.11(2)(a), 281.11, 281.12(1) and 283.001, WI. Stats., Chapter NR 299, Water Quality Certification, Ch. NR 103, Water Quality Standards for Wetlands and Ch NR 104, Uses and Designated Standards, WI. Admin. Code (PDF; Exit DNR).  “It is the policy of the department to review, consistent with the requirements of section 1341 of the federal water pollution control act, 33 U.S.C. ss 1251, et. seq., all activities which require a federal license or permit which may result in any discharge to waters of the state…”

Wetland Definition


Designated Uses

Wisconsin law requires that the department protect water quality related functions and values of wetlands including sediment and pollutant attenuation, storm and flood water retention, hydrologic cycle maintenance, shoreline protection against erosion, biological diversity and production and human uses such as recreation. 

Narrative and/or Numeric Criteria

The department uses narrative standards. Basically the department must make a finding that the project proponent has shown that no practicable alternative exists which would avoid adverse impacts to wetlands, that all practicable measures to minimize adverse impacts to the functional values of the affected wetlands have been taken and that the activity will not result in significant adverse impacts to wetland functional values, significant adverse impacts to water quality or other significant adverse environmental consequences.

In addition, the following criteria must be used to assure the maintenance or enhancement of the functional values: a) Liquids, fill or other solids or gas may not be present in amounts which may cause significant adverse impacts to wetlands; b) Floating or submerged debris, oil or other material may not be present in amounts which may interfere with public rights or interest or which may cause significant adverse impacts to wetlands; c) Materials producing color, odor, taste or unsightliness may not be present in amounts which may cause significant adverse impacts to wetlands; d) Concentrations or combinations of substances which are toxic or harmful to human, animal or plant life may not be present in amounts which individually or cumulatively may cause significant adverse impacts to wetlands; e) Hydrological conditions necessary to support the biological and physical characteristics naturally present in wetlands shall be protected to prevent significant adverse impacts on water currents, erosion or sedimentation patterns;  water temperature variations, the chemical, nutrient and dissolved oxygen regime of the wetland, the movement of aquatic fauna, the pH of the wetland and water levels or elevations; and f) Existing habitats and the populations of wetland animals and vegetation shall be maintained by protecting food supplies for fish and wildlife, protecting reproductive and nursery areas, and  preventing conditions conductive to the establishment or proliferation of nuisance organisms.

Antidegradation Policy

Ss NR 103.03 (1), WI. Admin. Code – “[T]o protect, preserve, restore and enhance the quality of waters in wetlands and other waters of the state influenced by wetlands, the following water quality related functional values or uses, within the natural range of natural variation of the Affected, shall be protected:…” 



Staffing (Wetland Water Quality Staff)

No staff is dedicated to wetland water quality standards.   


Mitigation Policy

The department may consider a mitigation project as part of an application for complying with any wetland water quality standards if the applicant demonstrates that all appropriate and practicable measures will be taken to avoid and minimize adverse impacts on wetlands and the proposed activity does not affect an area of special natural resource interest (S 281.37, Stats.) (PDF; Exit DNR).  

Guidelines for Wetland Compensatory Mitigation in Wisconsin (PDF, 1438K) have been established and a MOA with Federal Agencies Concerning the Adoption of Guidelines for Wetland Compensatory Mitigation in Wisconsin (PDF,  97KB) has been in effect since May 2002.

Mitigation Banks

A mitigation bank registry has been established. 

In Lieu Fee Program

In lieu fees are not authorized by state statute.  

Ad Hoc Arrangements


Mitigation Database

A biennial report to the legislature is statutorily required. 

Staffing (Mitigation Staff)

2.5 positions were authorized, but have since been used to cover staff reductions elsewhere in the Department. 

Monitoring and Assessment

Mapping /Inventory

The state has its own wetland-mapping program. The entire state has been mapped and most maps digitized. The state has a program to update the maps on a 10-year cycle. 

Wetland Classification and Assessment

The Wisconsin Wetland Inventory (WWI) uses a modified Cowardin system. A summary of the differences from the National Wetland Inventory system is available from the WWI 

Overall Wetland Gain and Loss Tracking System

Regulatory wetland losses are tracked through the permitting data system.

State and federal restoration efforts are reported through a common reporting form and tabulated by the department.

Staffing (Monitoring and Assessment Staff.)

2 staff for wetland inventory program.  Aerial photography and mapping is done by contract. Map verification, map changes and digitizing are done in-house. 


Program Description

The department’s major restoration efforts are through the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region Joint Venture. In 2001 3,239 acres were protected by purchase or easement and 3,767 acres restored. This does not include acquisition work done by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   

Restoration Program Goals

The acreage goals for the state, as outlined by the 1998 Joint Venture Plan update, are to accomplish 288,750 new wetland and associated upland acres. At the end of 2001, we had completed 39.6% of the goal, or 114,345 acres of acquired, restored and enhanced wetlands and associated uplands. 

Eligibility Criteria

Eligibility is determined by individual funding source or program. Generally both public and private lands are eligible.

Restoration is undertaken on degraded or former wetlands.

Restoration Database

State and federal restoration efforts are tracked via a common reporting form. Department staff does tabulation as time allows. 

Staffing (Wetland Restoration Program Staff.)

There are no full time positions for wetland restoration. There are multiple organizations working on wetland restoration in Wisconsin: WDNR, FWS, NRCS, Ducks Unlimited, WI. Wetlands Association and WI Waterfowl Association. Within these organizations, a variety of staff positions work on wetland restoration, however it is difficult to quantify the number of  “full time positions” because of the non-wetland workload associated with these jobs.  

Public/Private Partnerships

Acquisition Program

The Department is developing a 50-year plan for the purchase of significant resource property. Wetlands are included in this planning effort.  

Public Outreach/Education

The department maintains a wetland website containing regulatory, technical and educational information. Department staff does wetland presentations as requested. Most outreach, technical and education materials are available from the website. 

Tax Incentives

There are no state incentive programs.

Technical Assistance

Assistance is available from the Department’s Bureau of Wildlife private land management staff and from a number of non-profit organizations – Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, Wisconsin Wetlands Association, and Ducks Unlimited. 

Other Nonregulatory Incentives for Private Landowners

A number of programs are available through the North American Waterfowl Plan and federal programs such as CRP, WRP, CREP, and Coastal Great Lakes, etc. 

Wetland Training and Education

Annual basic and advance wetland delineator courses are conducted. Department conducts basic training to all new water management staff. In addition, specialized training is offered regionally for Department and other government agency staff.

The Department and partners have also been conducting wetland restoration and management workshops for wetland owners.

Watershed Planning

Wetlands are an integral part of the department's watershed planning efforts and "basin water quality plans."

Special Problems

Lack of program implementation funding. 


A dedicated senior level position, "wetland team leader", is used to coordinate wetland efforts and to develop wetland policy and legislation. 

A department “Wetland Team” was established in 1998. The wetland team is composed of various staff members of the Department.  The Team is working to bring the diverse staff and ideas together into a coordinated approach to wetland protection for the state. The formal purpose of the Team is to develop a shared philosophy of and approach to wetland management and to manage a high quality, comprehensive statewide wetland program.

An informal “Interagency Wetland Group” meets occasionally to coordinate wetland programs and to share information.

Contact Person(s)

P. Scott Hausmann - FH/3
WI Dept. of Natural Resources
P. O. Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707
(608) 266-7360

Contact Points

Information on the department’s wetland programs and contacts can be found at: www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/wetland.

Information on the department’s water regulatory program can be found at www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/waterway.

Guidebooks, Brochures, Websites, Other Educational Materials

FH-226      Small Wetlands and the Cumulative Impacts of Small Wetland Losses

FH-232      Reversing the Loss: A Strategy for Protecting and Restoring Wetlands in Wisconsin

FH-428     The Water’s Edge: Helping Fish and Wildlife on Your Waterfront Property

FH-430      A Fresh Look at Shoreland Restoration

FH-429      What is a Shoreland Buffer?

FH-431      Sensible Shoreland Lighting

FH-002      Wisconsin’s Water Regulations Work for You

FH-012      Pond Planner

FH-021      Wetland Information Packet

FH-025      Review of Activities under NR 103

FH-055     Nonmetallic Mining Application Packet

WZ-005    Saving Your Shoreline

WZ-009    Why Protect Shoreland Areas?

WZ-013    Get Your Feet Wet: Get Into Wetlands

WZ-015    Wetlands-Wonderlands (includes poster and WDNR magazine)

WZ-016    A Wetland Year (poster)

WZ-021    Building Near Wetlands: The Dry Facts

WZ-022    A User’s Guide to the Wisconsin Wetland Inventory

WZ-023    Wisconsin Wetland Inventory Classification Guide

WZ-026    Wetland Functional Values 

WZ-028    Protection of Navigable Waters in Wisconsin

WZ-029    Basic Guide to Wisconsin Wetlands and Their Boundaries

SS-961     Guidelines for Wetland Compensatory Mitigation in Wisconsin DNR

9732P     A Manual for County Enforcement of Wetland Regulations