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Wetland Mitigation Reforms Moving Forward
Over ten years ago, legislation was enacted that created the state’s Wetlands and Mitigation Program.  The purpose of this program was to provide the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with options to approve applications for projects affecting wetlands and the necessary tools to allow for appropriate wetland mitigation relating to projects. 
Following an audit of the program in 2007, the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau made several recommendations to the Legislature and DNR for improving the program.  These recommendations included improving the tracking of the loss of wetlands and the permit processing timeline, as well as developing general permits for activities with minimal effect on wetlands.  Senate Bill 368 (SB 368) and Assembly Bill 463 (AB 463) seek to address the recommendations made by the auditors and make changes to the program to help it become more effective. 
SB 368 and AB 463 would create new procedures for the application, review, and consideration of projects affecting wetlands.  These bills would allow the DNR to issue General Permits similar to permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for projects that have minor impacts to a wetland.  Individual Permits would be required for applications that have greater impacts or that would affect higher quality wetlands and would receive greater scrutiny from the DNR.  Those applying for Individual Permits would be required to meet with the DNR before submitting their application in order to discuss the details of the project. 
This legislation would also replace current “areas of special natural resource interest” designations with more specificity on the types of wetlands that are considered sensitive areas.  In an effort to provide more clarity on what is considered a sensitive area, there are seven types of wetlands listed under the bill that would have greater limitations.  These designated areas are similar to those listed under federal law.
Additionally, a wetland restoration fund would be created and would allow the DNR to enter into agreements with third-party organizations for projects creating or restoring wetlands.  Land that is improved using these funds would be required to be open for hunting, fishing, trapping, cross-country skiing, and hiking unless reasonable restrictions are placed by the DNR for public safety reasons or to protect a rare plant or animal community.
It is important that we continue to work to ensure that the laws and programs we enact are working efficiently and properly, while ensuring that our natural resources and wetlands are protected.  This legislation seeks to balance the need for reforms while keeping Wisconsin’s tradition of conservation in mind.  It is anticipated that this legislation will be coming up for a vote soon.
Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on this proposal or on other issues relating to DNR regulations or Wisconsin’s conservation efforts.