20 tips for buying a lake home in NW Wisconsin: #12 Critical Habitat Designations – Why They’re Usually a Plus
If a cabin, lake home, or land is on a body of water where certain areas have been designated as critical habitat, it’s something you can feel good about. It means there’s something on the lake or stream worth preserving. These designations rarely undermine the value of property. In most cases, they’re actually a plus.
First, keep in mind that the critical habitat designations described at at http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/criticalhabitat/ often overlap with other regulations that are already in place at the state, county, and local level. In some cases, they may provide additional protections. More often, however, they simply clarify the regulations that would already apply. If a critical habitat designation does mean extra restrictions, they’re usually of the sort that are easy to live with and won’t undermine the value of property. In the end, critical habitat designations are usually a positive.
Here’s a key idea to keep in mind. These designations reflect the reality of what’s already there. True, some are based on information that would only become apparent after careful study by trained biologists. Most, however, are based on factors that would be obvious to even the most casual observer.
Suppose, for example, that your lake home is in the corner of a shallow, weedy bay that’s been designated critical habitat because it provides food, cover, and a perfect spawning area for game fish. The entire bay has been designated a critical habitat area. That information can make a home even more attractive—especially if you enjoy fishing.
Even if you don’t know the scientific name of every plant in a bay, you can see that it’s a shallow bay with a fair amount of submerged and emergent vegetation. If you’re also into water skiing, you’ll want to motor slowly out into the main part of the lake before you start skiing.
Nothing is changed by the designation, and you could always have a look for yourself to see what the bay looks like up close. You could even try fishing in front of the dock before you make an offer. Still, the entire bay is now officially an area that’s important for fish. Buyers, this can be a real plus.
This designation also means, however, that the neighbors wouldn’t be granted permission to remove all vegetation from the entire bay and truck in several tons of sand to make a giant swimming beach. In practice, of course, you probably wouldn’t have been granted a permit to do that anyway.
Meanwhile, between the bay and the main part of the lake, there’s a small channel just wide enough for you and the neighbors to take your pontoons through. Your boat traffic seems to keep it clear, even in late summer. But you’re worried that may not always be the case. Plus, a couple of old white pines are leaning out over the channel. If one of them ever fell…
Good news. Critical habitat designations aren’t just for sensitive areas. They also cover “public rights” features like navigation thoroughfares. It turns out the channel has received just such a designation. Buyers can be more confident the channel will be kept open in the future. If you are trying to decide between one or two homes, this sort of information could tip the balance.