Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan

By the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Wisconsin is bordered on the east and north by Lakes Michigan and Superior, on the west by the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, and on the south by a sea of rolling prairie. Moreover, the state sits at the confluence of three great ecoregions: northern boreal forests, eastern deciduous forests and tallgrass prairies to the south and west. Thus, Wisconsin’ wildlife action plan was developed from a landscape-scale perspective rather than a single- or even multi-species approach; the organization of the final document and the Conservation Actions in it both reflect this broad view.

From the beginning, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ guiding philosophy was to create a wildlife action plan for Wisconsin that complements other existing conservation plans and encourages the involvement of all agencies, organizations, and private individuals. Technical consultants, species experts and other individuals from within and outside of the Department worked together in interactive teams to develop the plan. This approach optimized the efficiency of the process and made the best possible use of the strengths possessed by each participant. Stakeholders endeavored to make the plan dynamic, able to adapt both to changing conditions over time and to feedback gained after it is implemented.

The major issues faced by federal, state, county, municipal, tribal and private land managers are habitat loss and fragmentation, the introduction of non-native plants and animals, and land use practices that reduce natural variety on the landscape. Land managers at all levels work together and with land trusts and other conservation organizations to protect, manage, and enhance the state’s natural resources.

Wildlife Highlights

There are 556 wildlife species native to Wisconsin, the majority (51%) of them birds. Among other species, Wisconsin is home to lake sturgeon, bobolinks, wood turtles, American martens, Karner blue butterflies and 51 species of mussels.

Primary Challenges to Conserving Wildlife in Wisconsin

Threats to invertebrates revolve around a general lack of knowledge about the basic biology of species, which leads to other issues, including extensive public misunderstanding about what invertebrates are and the role they play in the environment, and the lack of readily available references to aid in species identification.

Three issues are common to vertebrate groups: habitat loss, invasive species, and pollution. Habitat loss includes habitat conversion (e.g., to row crops, tree plantations, shoreline modification), habitat degradation (e.g., runoff and sedimentation from housing developments entering streams), and habitat fragmentation (e.g., bisecting large blocks of forest with roads). Invasive species include both plants and animals that tend to dominate landscapes to the exclusion of all others (e.g., purple loosestrife, buckthorn, Asian carp), as well as, in the case of non-native animals, those that prey on or parasitize native species (e.g., feral cats). Pollution threatens wildlife directly through the sedimentation of spawning beds or the bioaccumulation of toxins in fish and birds, and indirectly by affecting the invertebrate prey of fish and mammals or increasing the vulnerability of affected species to diseases and predation.

Working Together for Wisconsin’s Wildlife

Public outreach began with the creation of a mailing list that eventually grew to include 600 people and organizations. Using this list, the Department invited individuals, organizations and agency staff from across Wisconsin to participate in developing the plan. Participants were given background information about the need for the plan, as well as a description of the planning process, the required elements of the plan, and the State Wildlife Grant program. An “Advisory Team” was formed to oversee the entire planning process.  This team included representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Wisconsin Association of Lakes, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, WE Energies, the U.S. Forest Service, the Ruffed Grouse Society, Trout Unlimited, and the Milwaukee Public Museum. Updates, announcements, and information were posted on a website, issued through press releases, and mailed to many interested individuals and groups. Six public meetings held around the state provided a forum for presenting Wisconsin’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need, laying out the timeline for completing the plan, and soliciting input on threats and recommended conservation actions for species and their habitats from more than 340 attendees.


The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies represents all of North America’s fish and wildlife agencies, promotes sound management and conservation, and speaks with a unified voice on important fish and wildlife issues.

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