Informational tools aim to protect wetlands, help landowners
MADISON - New informational tools to protect Wisconsin's remaining wetlands, as well as current and prospective property owners, were unveiled today by the Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.
"Wetlands are an important part of Wisconsin's landscape, providing scenic beauty, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreational opportunities and natural flood control," says DNR Secretary Matt Frank. "I want to thank the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association for working with DNR to get more information to property buyers at the time of purchase."
State and federal laws prevent building or making other improvements in wetlands unless the property owner can show it's unavoidable and receives the necessary permits. So it's important that people know if there are wetlands and understand the constraints as well as the benefits wetlands can bring, like reduced flooding, cleaner runoff to lakes and rivers, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation.
"Successful real estate transactions depend upon buyers and sellers having accurate information about a property," says Mike Mulleady, chairman of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association. "These tools will hopefully provide buyers with more information about potential wetlands when they need it most - before they purchase the property."
Erin O'Brien, policy director for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, noted that some property buyers seek out wetlands for the beauty and recreation they provide while others want to avoid them so they can build without constraints. "The DNR's locating wetland tools will provide much needed assistance for landowners and property buyers under either scenario."
The DNR worked with the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association to develop a real estate addendum that people can complete with their offer to purchase.
The Addendum W - Wetlands is a legal document that allows buyers an opportunity to verify that wetlands are present on a property and to negotiate a mutual remedy with the seller, which might include the ability to rescind or modify the offer terms, if wetlands are confirmed.
New informational tools seek to help people "Wake Up to Wetlands" before they buy land or build upon it.
The other new tools, which local government organizations also collaborated on with the DNR, can all be found on the Locating Wetlands page of the DNR Web site. They are:
Enhanced Web pages and a lighthearted video guide, "Waking Up to Wetlands," to walk people through the steps they can take to learn if there are wetlands on a property. Wisconsin residents who subscribe to Time Warner Cable's digital service are able to view the video for free. Tune into channel 1403, Find It on Demand, now through the end of December to view anytime. This is available under a TV contract paid for by a grant the DNR received.
Online, interactive maps indicating wetlands;
A downloadable checklist of plants, trees and other wetland clues people can look for while walking a property.
Cherie Hagen, the DNR wetland team leader who led development of the informational tools, says they are an important part of Wisconsin's strategy to protect remaining wetlands and reverse the historical loss of wetlands. About half of the 10 million acres of wetlands present at statehood have been filled or drained to make way for cities, farms, roads and factories.
At the same time, Hagen hopes the tools help benefit property owners and prospective property owners who many not recognize that Wisconsin has more than a dozen different types of wetlands, many of which do not have the open water, ducks and cattails that many people consider characteristic of wetlands.
"Landowners who don't realize there are wetlands on a property before they buy it may get frustrated when they learn later that they have wetlands and limits on where they can build," she says. Or, they may proceed with their project without knowing they have wetlands and unwittingly harm the wetlands and wind up with a soggy foundation, legal troubles, and the prospect of paying to restore wetlands.
Citizen complaints of illegal wetland fills have been increasing in recent years, particularly as more people try to develop land that previously had been considered marginal for development.
Wisconsin Sen. Mark Miller, who along with Rep. Gary Bies had introduced the Wetland Identification Act passed by the State Senate in March 2008, was "extremely pleased" that the organizations worked together to develop the wetlands addendum. "It is an important step in continuing to educate the public on the identity and importance of wetlands," Miller says. "It is my hope that we will be able to build on this accomplishment and pass the Wetland Identification Act next session."
The tools were developed under grant funding from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the Natural Resources Foundation. In addition to the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, the project was supported and informed by the Wisconsin County Code Administrators, the Wisconsin Towns Association, The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, and the Wisconsin Builders Association.
Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
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