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Real estate programSelling your land

The Wisconsin State Legislature has given the DNR the responsibility and authority to acquire land for conservation, natural resource protection and public outdoor recreation purposes. This authority is found in Chapter 23 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The DNR continually collects and analyzes data on the status of natural resources and recreational needs and adjusts programs and policies appropriately. Establishing land acquisition priorities within existing projects depends on a variety of factors but acquisition is always based on the willingness of the landowner to sell his or her land to the DNR.

Fee title acquisition

Fee title acquisition is the outright purchase of land, including the complete transfer of title to the property and all the rights associated with ownership as defined above.


An easement is a way to convey some of the land rights associated with ownership of property to another party. It is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency, local unit of government or qualified nonprofit organization that conveys specific rights and permanently limits specified current and future uses.

The DNR buys rights to further the goals of a specific program. For example, the DNR might purchase access rights to a stream so that the public could fish there. The DNR may also purchase the right to control growing crops or pasturing cows along a stream bank to improve the water quality of the stream. In another instance, the DNR might buy the right to prohibit filling or draining the property in order to restore a wetland for wildlife habitat.

Contacting the landowner

The DNR buys from willing sellers within the boundaries of established DNR projects. In some cases, department employees contact a landowner to explain the project and the department's specific resource management objectives and ask about his or her interest in selling. In other cases, a landowner contacts the department and offers his or her land for sale or donation.

If a landowner is interested in selling his or her property, the department orders at least one and often two independent appraisals of the land to determine its fair market value. Unlike other buyers, the department is required by state and federal laws to offer "just compensation," which is the estimated fair market value based on an appraisal. This is to ensure that the state is fair to all landowners while, at the same time, using public funds wisely. Fair market value is defined as the most probable price that a property is estimated to bring if placed for sale on the open market for a reasonable period of time.

A DNR staff appraiser or a private appraiser completes the appraisals. Appraisals must conform to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice and there may be other state or federal standards for the appraisal depending on the circumstances. Upon ordering an appraisal, it will take approximately 90 days for the appraiser to complete the appraisal and for the department to complete its review of the appraisal. Once the appraisals and all necessary reviews are complete, the department will contact the owner of the land regarding the process for negotiating and purchasing the property. Please note that the DNR will not accept an appraisal commissioned by the landowner.

Making an offer to purchase

The DNR makes an "offer to option" when the appraisal(s) have been reviewed and approved by the DNR's appraisal review staff. If the owner accepts the offer, he or she grants an option to the DNR to purchase the land. This option gives the DNR the right to purchase the land within a certain period of time at a certain price. It takes approximately 90 days for the option to be approved and accepted by the DNR. The approval process requires Natural Resources Board and Governor approvals and some transactions may require review by certain committees of the state legislature. Once all required approvals are received the landowner is notified by certified mail that the DNR is accepting the option. A closing usually occurs within 120 days of the DNR's acceptance of the option.

Transfer of ownership

Transferring ownership, commonly referred to as the "closing," is the last step in the acquisition process. Typically, most of the details have been worked out by this time, including legal counsel review, review of option and review of the legal description of the property.

The DNR, unlike typical buyers, pays some of the closing costs. These include the purchase of title insurance, recording fees, transfer taxes and similar expenses. The DNR does not pay legal fees, commissions or costs associated with clearing up the title of the property.

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Last revised: Friday August 31 2012