Introducing: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The Wisconsin DNR is a state agency in charge of managing and conserving the State’s natural resources.


Introducing: the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)


“The DNR is dedicated to working with Wisconsinites while preserving and enhancing the natural resources of Wisconsin. In partnership with individuals and organizations, DNR staff manage fish, wildlife, forests, parks, air, and water resources while promoting a healthy, sustainable environment and a full range of outdoor opportunities.”


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The Wisconsin DNR is a state agency in charge of managing and conserving the State’s natural resources. They are in charge of developing and administering regulation related to wildlife, fish, forests, endangered resources, air, water, waste, and other issues. Within this large profile of responsibilities, the DNR has a number of programs that address Great Lakes coastal hazard issues like erosion and flooding for Wisconsin’s communities and residents. Here we highlight some of the main ways that Wisconsin DNR supports resilience along the state’s Great Lakes coast, though there are many other ways the DNR works on the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes Erosion Control and Permitting 

Sometimes erosion control structures may be needed to stabilize and prevent property from falling into the lake. Construction of erosion control structures is a regulated activity since these structures may cause impacts to neighboring properties and critical shoreline wildlife habitat. State law requires any material that is placed in the Great Lakes and along the shoreline to be authorized by the DNR through a permit for a permanent or temporary emergency erosion control structure (some actions may be exempt from these requirements, depending on the specific activity and its location). The WDNR has processes and authorization requirements in place for permitting erosion control structures on Great Lakes shorelines as well as resources for property owners and consultants. The WDNR has also developed an Emergency Great Lakes Erosion Control Request process for stakeholders dealing with coastal emergencies due to the persistent high water along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

To learn more about the permitting process and other resources on Great Lakes erosion take a look at these links:

Office of Great Waters

“The DNR’s Office of Great Waters is charged with implementing a comprehensive program to protect the lakes, identify problems and solutions and serve as a contact point for the Great Lakes community in Wisconsin”.

The Office of Great Waters runs the Areas of Concern (AOC) program which involves cleaning and restoring degraded areas designated by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to a condition that is comparable to similar locations along the Great Lakes. Wisconsin has five AOCs: the St. Louis River on Lake Superior, the Lower Menominee River, the Lower Green Bay and Fox River, the Sheboygan River, and the Milwaukee Estuary on Lake Michigan. Wisconsin also has one completed, or delisted, AOC: the Lower Menominee River on Lake Michigan. Learn more about Wisconsin AOCs with this 3 minute “AOC 101 Wisconsin” video.

Additionally, the Office of Great Waters provides support to county health departments to monitor and assess beach condition. The Great Lakes Beach Program ensures there is effective monitoring and public notification about impaired coastal beaches.

The Office of Great Waters is also involved with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) which is a federal program led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that provides funding for restoration efforts on the Great Lakes. The Office of Great Waters is responsible for implementing the GLRI program in Wisconsin and helps guide GLRI funding on projects in the 5 focus areas: (1) Toxic Substances and Areas of Concern (2) Invasive Species (3) Non-point Source Pollution Impacts on Nearshore Health (4) Habitat Protection and Restoration (5) Foundations for Future Restoration Actions (accountability, monitoring, evaluation, communication and partnership building).

Coastal Funding Programs

The DNR maintains a list of federal, state and other grants and funding opportunities for Great Lakes projects. The programs listed provide funding for coastal-related issues include enhancing the health of the Great Lakes, wildlife conservation, and coastal management and restoration.

The DNR also administers grant and loan programs that may be applicable to the Great Lakes, discoverable on the DNR’s Financial Assistance webpage. One such example is the Recreational Boating Facilities Grant.

Other state-wide programs:

The DNR has a few other state-wide programs worth mentioning that are closely related to coastal resilience and coastal hazards.

The first is floodplain management and the State’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). While FEMA produces Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) which outlines floodplains and associated risk of flooding, the DNR manages the floodplain. The DNR has an extensive webpage about floodplains, the role of FEMA, available grants for mitigation, mapping processes, regulation and ordinances, and more. There is also a page where you can request technical assistance, including help determining if a property is located in a floodplain. Additionally, the state provides a model floodplain ordinance for communities and houses the state’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) coordinator who helps communities join and navigate NFIP.

Second is state wetland mapping, which includes Wisconsin’s valuable Great Lakes coastal wetlands. The DNR’s Wisconsin Wetland Inventory maps wetland location, type, size of these habitats, and condition. Other wetland programs involve wetland compensatory mitigation, the Wetland ID Program, Wetland Restoration, and Wetland Study Council. All of the programs are aimed at maintaining, restoring, or mitigating impacts to wetland habitat.

Overall, Wisconsin DNR has many roles when it comes to supporting communities and residents as they address coastal hazards and build their resilience. We encourage readers to visit Wisconsin DNR’s main webpage to learn more about the DNR’s work on other Great Lakes issues not covered here, such as fisheries, boating, aquatic invasive species and more. Home page.

April 25, 2020 | By Kayla Wandsnider, Coastal Resilience Project Assistant, Wisconsin Sea Grant