Critical Habitat Designations – What Are They, and How Do They Affect You?
I recently heard from someone who is thinking of selling his lake home. He had a few questions for me about something called a “critical habit designation.” His lake home was in an area that had received this designation. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing? How would it affect the value of his property? And just what is a “critical habitat designation?”
Here’s a quick overview. I’ve borrowed part of my explanation from the Wisconsin DNR website; you can find out more at http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/criticalhabitat/.
Our state constitution guarantees that the waters of Wisconsin are held in trust for all citizens. They belong to everyone, and everyone has a right to enjoy them. The state, in turn, has an obligation to protect this resource. Part of that job involves taking inventory to figure out just what needs to be protected, and how to best do that.
Every body of water has areas of critical habitat that are especially important to the overall health of aquatic plants and animals. Areas are designated as Critical Habitat if they have Public Rights Features, Sensitive areas or both. Public rights features (defined in NR 1.06, Wis. Adm. Code) include the following:
- Fish and wildlife habitat;
- Physical features of lakes and streams that ensure protection of water quality;
- Reaches of bank, shore or bed that are predominantly natural in appearance;
- Navigation thoroughfares; and
- Sensitive Areas. Sensitive Areas are defined in Ch. NR 107 as: areas of aquatic vegetation identified by the department as offering critical or unique fish and wildlife habitat to the body of water.
A few Wisconsin lakes are such important resources that the entire lake has received a critical habitat designation. Others don’t have any areas designated as critical habitat, and probably never will. So far, 165 bodies of water in Wisconsin have areas that have received critical habitat designations. Another 54 projects are on the proposed list. If your lake is on either list, you can find out all the details at http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/criticalhabitat/.