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Wisconsin's endangered and threatened species laws

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In 1972, Wisconsin passed a state endangered species law. Under the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the state created rules and regulations and identified which species to protect. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 with a purpose "to conserve the ecosystem upon which endangered and threatened species depend." The law incorporates the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 and the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969.

State laws

Below is a summary of Wisconsin State Statute 29.604 and Administrative Rule Chapter NR 27, which established and defined Wisconsin's endangered and threatened species laws. Chapter NR 29, Wis. Adm. Code, established and defines the endangered resources information fees related to providing rare species data to the public.

Permits - No one is exempt from these laws, but an endangered or threatened species permit can allow you to conduct certain activities under specified conditions. The Department of Natural Resources may issue permits to take, transport, possess or export species listed as endangered or threatened (E/T) for educational, zoological, scientific or preservation purposes. Permitted species and records relating to them are subject to inspection at any time. Permit holders are required to submit annual reports and should, therefore, keep accurate records of any actions taken pertaining to the E/T species the permit holder possesses. Accurate up-to-date records should be maintained at all times in the event of an inspection along with the required annual report.

Violations - Any person in violation of any of the laws presented above are subject to fines and/or imprisonment. For details, see the Wisconsin Endangered and Threatened Species List.

  • Endangered and threatened animals - If state law is violated unintentionally, the violator is subject to a fine of no less than $500 and no more than $2,000 and the court shall revoke all hunting privileges for one year. If the law is violated intentionally, a person may be fined no less than $2,000 and no more than $5,000, may be imprisoned for nine months, or both. The court shall revoke all hunting privileges for three years. Violations of federal laws will result in greater penalties.
  • Endangered and threatened plants - If state law is violated unintentionally, the violator is subject to a fine of up to $1,000. If the law is violated intentionally, the person is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or nine months imprisonment.

Incidental Take - Wisconsin law prohibits the taking of any E/T animal species, regardless of where it occurs. For E/T plants, taking is prohibited only on public property. However, even on public lands, taking of E/T plant species is not prohibited if it occurs during the course of forestry, agriculture or utility practices (29.604, Wis. Stats. [exit DNR]). See the Incidental Take pages for more information.

Conservation  - The Department of Natural Resources is required by law to implement conservation programs on state-listed species. This involves conducting research and developing programs directed at conserving, protecting, managing for and restoring and propagating selected endangered and threatened species to the maximum extent practicable.


It is illegal to take, transport, possess, process or sell any wild animal that is included on the Wisconsin Endangered and Threatened Species List without a valid E/T species permit.

Nongame birds - As mentioned earlier, all birds, with the exception of resident game birds and certain non-native species, are protected from intentional taking, killing or possession. This includes their nests, eggs and body parts.

Reptiles and amphibians - All native herptiles are considered protected but have different levels of protection. Open season for taking frogs is from the Saturday nearest May 1 to Dec. 31. There is no open season for bullfrogs in Jefferson County. Open season for all turtles, other then E/T species, is July 16-Nov. 30. Collection of protected wild animals, including gray rat snake, gopher snake, timber rattlesnake and North American racer or those listed as endangered or threatened, is prohibited in Wisconsin. Otherwise, non-listed reptiles and amphibians may be taken at any time. See Wisconsin's amphibian and reptile regulations for details.

Mussels - It is illegal to remove threatened or endangered clams, live or dead, from any Wisconsin water. In addition, it is no longer legal to harvest live clams from any state waters. See the Wisconsin clamming regulations for details.

Nongame fish - Up to 600 nongame minnows may be taken and possessed without a fishing license or bait dealer license as long as they are not E/T species. See Fishing Regulations for the Guide to Wisconsin Spearing, Netting, and Bait Harvest Regulations.

Mammals - Generally speaking, wild mammal species not listed as E/T and not hunted or trapped are considered unprotected and may be taken. This includes most members of the weasel and rodent families, with a few exceptions, such as badgers and woodchucks, which are protected and can only be taken with a permit. Species that are rarely or accidentally in the state, such as cougar and moose, may not be taken or killed.


No one may process or sell any wild plant that is an E/T species without a valid endangered or threatened species permit. You may not cut, root up, sever, injure, destroy, remove, transport or carry away an E/T species plant on public lands or lands you do not own, lease or have the permission of the landowner, without an endangered or threatened species permit. There is an exemption on public lands for forestry, agriculture and utility activities.

Native plants - The wildflower law that protected plants such as orchids, trillium and bittersweet was taken off the books in 1978. Except for wild ginseng, wild rice and E/T species, all plants are unprotected on private lands and may be taken, transported or sold — with the exception of noxious and nuisance weeds. For more information, see Wisconsin's invasives species rule and regulations. On state property, you cannot take any plants or plant parts except for edible fruits, edible nuts, wild mushrooms, wild asparagus and watercress, which may be removed by hand without a permit for the purpose of personal consumption by the collector.

Wild ginseng - The harvest of wild ginseng requires a license if it is harvested on land you do not own, or if it is sold. Ginseng may not be harvested from DNR lands, national forests or parks. The ginseng harvest season is Sept. 1-Nov. 1.

Wild rice - The harvest of wild rice may occur only on specified waters during the specified open rice seasons. A rice permit is required and harvesting must be done via traditional ricing techniques, using canoes and beating poles. On lakes not subject to a specific wild rice season and on all flowages, rivers and streams, rice may be harvested whenever it ripens. See wild rice harvesting information in Wisconsin for details.

Invasive plants - Invasive plant species may be removed from state property for the purposes of identification, control or disposal as long as no viable individual specimens or propagules are allowed to escape or be introduced. Invasive plant removal for other activities, such as research, may be conducted with a permit from the DNR. For more information, see Wisconsin's invasives species rule and regulations.

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Federal laws

The Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects all federally listed animals from direct killing, taking or other activities that may be detrimental to the species. Federally listed plants have similar protection, but the direct killing or taking prohibitions are limited to federal lands. Federal protection of plants also covers intentional taking on any lands if done in violation of state law or criminal trespass laws.

Under the ESA, all federal agencies and cooperating states shall seek to conserve and recover federally listed species. All federal agencies must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) if any federal project could result in a direct or incidental take of any federally listed species. Any state projects that could impact a federally listed species that are funded in whole or in part by federal funds also require consultation with the USFWS prior to any project activity. An endangered species permit must be obtained from the USFWS prior to taking, transporting, possessing, processing or selling of any federally-listed species. The Federal ESA also limits interstate and international commerce of all E/T species. Permits may be applied for by contacting:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Endangered Species Division
Fort Snelling, MN   55222

Federal Lacey Act
The Federal Lacey Act states that it is a federal violation to import, export, sell, receive, acquire, purchase or conduct interstate transport of any fish, wildlife or plant taken or possessed in violation of federal, tribal, state or foreign law. Therefore, it is illegal to transport federal or state listed E/T species obtained in Wisconsin out of the state without a valid permit.

This law also applies to species that are not listed but are protected by other laws, such as wild ginseng and migratory birds. You may bring into Wisconsin non-living specimens of Wisconsin E/T species without a permit, if they are legally obtained from their place of origin, have a tag attached and documentation stating the place of origin.

Federal Migratory Bird Act
The Federal Migratory Bird Act [exit DNR] states that most birds and their parts (i.e. feathers, eggs, nests etc.) are protected from being killed, taken, transported, possessed, bought, sold, imported or exported without a valid federal permit. This includes the majority of the bird species found in Wisconsin, with the exception of resident games birds such as pheasant, quail, grouse, etc., and non-native species such as the house sparrow, European starling and European goldfinch. The hunting of migratory game birds is subject to state law and may be done only during official hunting seasons by licensed individuals.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits the taking, possession, sale, purchase or barter, transport, export or import of any bald eagle or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part of the bird such as feathers, nests or eggs, unless specified in an endangered or threatened species permit.