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May 21, 2013

Know before you buy or build

MADISON - As Wisconsin's housing industry recovers, people looking to buy land for a new home or to build on property they already own can turn to some online tools to help them understand if the property has wetlands that may affect what they can do on the land.

"Because laws limit development in wetlands, it's important to know before you buy or build," says Pat Trochlell, wetland ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "Knowing if wetlands are present can help people buy property that meets their needs and future plans."

Wetlands are protected by federal, state, and sometimes local laws because they are critical natural resources that provide wildlife habitat, store flood waters, keep lakes, rivers and groundwater clean, and provide recreation, Trochlell says. But wetlands aren't always obvious, and many of Wisconsin's more than a dozen different types don't have the cattails, open water and ducks people often associate with them, she says.

The suite of online tools - found by searching the DNR website for Locating Wetlands -- can help people know where there is a wetland when there aren't obvious signs that wetlands are present, Trochlell says. Online maps show wetlands and potential wetlands, a checklist and photos help people look for clues on a property that wetlands may be present, and a video takes a lighthearted look at the simple steps people can take to understand if they have a wetland on their property.

The interactive online maps indicate wetlands and potential wetlands by essentially bringing together and displaying wetlands formally mapped and officially recorded through the Wisconsin Wetland Inventory, and soil types from county soil surveys from the Natural Resources Conservation Service maps. The maps are to be used as a guide only, says Lois Simon, Wisconsin wetland inventory coordinator.

Other tools available online include a real estate addendum that DNR developed with the Wisconsin REALTORS Association and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. This legal document 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.

"The wetland maps are a great resource to use as an initial first step in determining whether wetlands may be present on a site you are interested in purchasing," Simon says.

Starting next month, DNR will begin a pilot project in southeastern Wisconsin to provide interested citizens with a wetland identification service for a fee. The landowner or prospective landowner can ask DNR to review up to five acres of a property to give them a definite "yes" or "no" whether wetlands are present on that area, and if so, the general location. The wetland identification service, created by the legislature last year, would cost $300 per acre and would require DNR to provide an answer within 60 days, according to Tom Nedland, one of the DNR wetland specialists that will be providing the service. The plan is to expand the program beyond southeastern Wisconsin the following year, Nedland says.

More resources

The Wisconsin Wetland Association also provides a clearinghouse of online resources aimed at helping people understand if there are wetlands on a property, what that means, and resources for protecting and enhancing those wetlands. Their My Healthy Wetlands resources can be found on their website at

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Pat Trochlell 608-267-2453; Lois Simon 608-266-8852

Last Revised: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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