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Learn
about the programs that provide a healthy Wisconsin shoreland, a system of native plants and trees thriving in and around the shallow water.
Find
resources provided by local communities that offer zoning ordinances to guide development near navigable lakes and rivers.

Did You Know?
Lakes and rivers belong to the state's citizens. See: The Public Trust Doctrine.
The number of homes on lakes of all sizes increased 216 percent from the 1960s to 1995.
See: Development Trends in Northern Wisconsin.

As northern lakes are developed...
Songbirds decrease and grackles, cowbirds and other common species increase.
Green frog populations decrease.
Musky, trout and bluegill populations decrease.
See: Preserving Fish and Wildlife Habitat.

Contact information
Visit our Wisconsin Shoreland Zoning Contacts page to find out who to contact regarding your property.

Safeguarding our shorelands Shoreland programs

The legislature has established four programs to protect our shoreland areas. The department is legislatively mandated to oversee three of these programs, shoreland zoning, shoreland-wetland zoning and St. Croix Scenic Riverway zoning. While the administrative codes for each of the three programs the department is legislatively mandated to oversee may provide a guide for development, it is important that property owners contact their local municipality.

If you are located in an incorporated area please contact the local city or village. If you are located in an unincorporated area then please contact the local county and town to determine what standards apply to the project.

Shoreland zoning

The statewide shoreland zoning standards under Chapter NR 115 [exit DNR] are implemented by counties and generally apply only to unincorporated land that is within 1,000 feet of the ordinary high water mark of a lake, pond, or flowage; or within 300 feet of the ordinary high water mark of a river or stream; or to the landward side of the floodplain, whichever distance is greater.

Shoreland zoning has the goal of protecting water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and natural beauty. To accomplish these goals, the statewide minimum standards for shoreland zoning ordinances attempt to control the intensity and impacts of development around water and to maintain or establish a buffer between development and the waterway.

See Shoreland Zoning Program Management for more information.

Shoreland-wetland zoning

Counties, cities and villages are required to adopt shoreland-wetland zoning ordinances to regulate activities of wetlands within the shoreland zone. The shoreland zone is land located with 1,000 feet of the ordinary high water mark of a lake, pond, or flowage; or within 300 feet of the ordinary high water mark of a river or stream; or to the landward side of the floodplain, whichever distance is greater.

The minimum standards for shoreland-wetland zoning ordinances are found in Chapter NR 115 [exit DNR], Wis. Admin. Code for counties and in Chapter NR 117 [exit DNR], Wis. Admin. Code, for cities and villages. While the standards vary slightly between Chapter NR 115 and NR 117, the standards for shoreland-wetland zoning in Chapter NR 115 and 117 establish uses that may be permitted within a shoreland wetland and any uses that are not listed in zoning ordinance, are prohibited.

Lower Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway zoning

Counties, cities and villages are required to adopt ordinances that conform to the minimum standards found in Chapter NR 118 [exit DNR], Wis. Admin. Code for lands within the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway boundary. The Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway extends 52 miles from St. Croix Falls to the confluence of the Mississippi River at Prescott. Towns may but are not required to adopt an ordinance under Chapter NR 118, unless the town is located in a county which has not adopted a local zoning ordinance that applies to the town. The development standards established in Chapter NR 118 and administered by local governments, guide development away from sensitive areas such as shorelines, wetlands, steep slopes and unstable soils. At sites suitable for development, the regulations promote natural scenic beauty and protect water quality and property values. Development standards for lands in the Lower St. Croix Riverway apply at four points in the development process: land division, permitted uses, design and construction.

The Riverway is jointly managed by the National Park Service, Minnesota DNR and the department in accordance with a Cooperative Management Plan that was signed by the three agencies. The standards in NR 118, reflect the principals and goals agreed to in the Cooperative Management Plan.

For more information about the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway or to view the Cooperative Management Plan, please visit the National Park Service Web site [exit DNR].

Lower Wisconsin State Riverway zoning

The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway extends 92.3 miles from below the dam at Prairie du Sac to the confluence with the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien and encompasses 79,275 acres. While the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for administering a land acquisition program within the project boundaries, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board was created to administer and develop a system of performance standards to preserve the aesthetic quality of the valley without prohibiting development. The board reviews permit applications for structures, walkways, stairways, utility facilities and certain roads and bridges, as well as reviewing permit applications for timber harvesting within the 92.3-mile riverway corridor.

The Board is composed of nine members of which, six must be local residents or local elected officiSals from the affected counties, who are nominated by the respective county boards and appointed by the Governor. The three other members of the board represent recreational user groups that are appointed by the Governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

See the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board Web site [exit DNR] for more information.

Contact information
For more information about this page, please contact:
Shoreland policy coordinator
Bureau of Watershed Management
Last revised: Friday July 19 2013