Uncovering Wetland Governance: A County Level Analysis of Wisconsin's Wetland Governance
Zangl, Matthew D.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
MetadataShow full item record
The benefits of wetlands to the ecosystem have long been over-looked as wetlands were filled and used for urban development and agricultural production among other motives until the 1970’s. During the 1970’s, institutions shifted from promoting landowners to drain, fill or alter wetlands to protecting wetlands from being drained, filled or altered. In Wisconsin, 46 percent of pre-settlement wetlands have been destroyed (Reyer, Wolf and Murray, 2009). Understanding the wetland governance system will help to protect Wisconsin’s remaining five million acres of wetlands (Reyer, Wolf and Murray, 2009). This study uncovers the complex system of wetland governance in Wisconsin through two objectives. Objective one identified how Wisconsin counties’ zoning ordinances, subdivision ordinances and comprehensive plans are used for protecting wetlands. Objective one was examined through an inventory of all 72 Wisconsin counties’ zoning ordinances, subdivision ordinances and comprehensive plans. Results from objective one indicates that all counties meet the WDNR’s minimum requirements of wetland protection. While some counties follow the bare minimums, other counties enact stronger regulations, such as protecting all wetlands within the county or enforcing a setback from wetlands. Out of a 100-point scale, zoning ordinances’ average score was 33, subdivision ordinances’ average score was 17 and comprehensive plans’ average score was 50. A regression analysis including 11 variables was conducted on inventory scores. Zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance and comprehensive plan regression models were found be insignificant. However, inventory scores for each county were pooled to create a combined inventory score and was found to produce a significant regression model. Objective two identifies how county planning and zoning departments protect wetlands besides the use of zoning ordinances, subdivision ordinances and comprehensive plans. Objective two was examined through a multiple case study that collected data through the review of documents and semi-structured interviews. Results from the four case studies indicate counties share similar governance processes with differing regulatory codes and each case employs unique techniques to regulate wetlands. Each of the cases assist landowners with permits, utilize a GIS system to review permits and complete site visits to determine unique property characteristics. Cases enact varying regulations and unique governance techniques to govern wetlands. Governance techniques include the use of a wetland tour system, landowner education, wetland mapping and an erosion control ordinance to govern and regulate wetlands. This study helps to uncover the complicated structure of local wetland governance in Wisconsin. To improve the current wetland governance system in Wisconsin, a higher degree of coordination between the WDNR, USACE and county staff members is needed and counties should be required to complete site visits. County planning and zoning departments also need to have staff members who are knowledgeable of wetlands and wetland delineation.