What is Ramsar?
The international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is a cooperative, non-regulatory means of wetlands protection. In 1971, a convention was held in Ramsar, Iran, to ratify terms of an agreement that obligated Parties to the agreement to:
- designate sites as Wetlands of International Importance ("Ramsar sites");
- apply a "wise use" concept to all wetlands within a Party’s territory; and
- engage in international cooperation.
Worldwide, more than 160 countries, including the United States, are Parties to the Convention. More than 2,193 sites comprising 516 million acres have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance, including the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Everglades in south Florida, and the Pantanal in Brazil. While the United Kingdom has designated 170 sites and Mexico 142, the Unites States has designated just 37 sites totaling over 4.6 million acres. Wisconsin boasts five listed Wetland of International Importance: Horicon Marsh (designated in 1990), the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Marshes (designated in 2010), the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs (designated in 2012), the Door Peninsula Coastal Wetlands (designated 2014), and the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain (designated in 2015).
The U.S. National Ramsar Committee is committed to increasing the number of designated Ramsar sites in the United States in recognition of our nation’s wealth of wetlands. As a member of the U.S. National Ramsar Committee, WWA is likewise committed to seeing more of Wisconsin’s deserving wetlands designated under the Ramsar Convention.
How Does a Wetland Get Nominated for Ramsar Designation?
The international governing body for Ramsar has developed a formal nominating process to document scientific, historical, and cultural information about nominated sites, to define a site’s boundaries through maps, and to document community support for the designation. Letters of support are required from the local or state wildlife or natural resources agency, one member of congress, and all landowners within the site boundaries. Nominations for sites in the US must be reviewed and approved by the US Fish & Wildlife Service before they are submitted to the international Ramsar body.
Wisconsin Ramsar Committee
WWA believes that bringing international recognition to more of our state’s wetland treasures will help raise public awareness about the value of all wetlands. We are leading a statewide effort to conduct a strategic, scientifically-based process for identifying and nominating wetland sites in Wisconsin for Ramsar designation.
In 2009, WWA convened the Wisconsin Ramsar Committee, which is made up of wetland partners from various agencies and organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, USFWS, USDA-NRCS, and Wisconsin DNR. The committee was tasked with selecting 6-10 sites that are top statewide priorities for future nomination as Wetlands of International Importance and assisting landowners at these priority sites with forming committees to put together nomination materials for Ramsar designation The top ranked priority site, the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs, owned and managed by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was designated a Wetland of International Importance in February 2012. The Door Peninsula Coastal Wetlands (including the Mink River Estuary, North Bay, and Moonlight Bay and connected wetlands) was identified as a #2 priority by the Wisconsin Ramsar Committee; it was designated a Wetland of International Importance in 2014.
The Wisconsin Ramsar Committee drew on work done by WWA as part of our Wetland Gems® program to select priority sites for nomination. Wisconsin’s Wetland Gems® were selected to collectively represent the diversity of wetland types in each geographical region of Wisconsin. The list of Wetland Gems® recognizes and builds upon the results of several other extensive conservation planning projects that have identified critical habitats. Click here to read more about our Wetland Gems® program and site selection process.
Wisconsin Wetlands Association staff presented on this project as part of a special Symposium on the Ramsar Convention at the joint Society of Wetland Scientists-Wisconsin Wetlands Association-Wetland Biogeochemistry Symposium conference in Madison in June 2009. The National Wetlands Newsletter (published by Environmental Law Institute) published a guest column by WWA Outreach Programs Director Katie Beilfuss in 2010 about Wisconsin's strategic approach for Ramsar nominations (click here for a pdf of this Communications column).
If you are interested in learning more about WWA’s efforts to nominate more of Wisconsin’s worthy wetlands as Wetlands of International Importance, contact Katie Beilfuss at programs[at]wisconsinwetlands.org or 608-250-9971.