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Accessing Wisconsin Properties

When Participating in the Wisconsin Odonata Survey

As you plan your participation in the Wisconsin Odonata Survey, you should be aware of the possible need for permission or permits before you access or collect in certain properties. Please review the guidance below, which depends on land ownership. If a permit is needed, be sure to apply early enough to leave yourself plenty of time before you intend to survey.

You may find a county plat book for the county in which you will be surveying to be useful. Plat books map ownership boundaries, roads, rivers, lakes, and some other physical land features. A summary of where to obtain plat books for most counties is available from the State Cartographer's Office website. You may also wish to purchase a topographic map like the Wisconsin Atlas & Gazetteer. Further, there are many websites or mapping programs like Google Maps, Google Earth or Acme Mapper that are useful.

Keep in mind these common-sense principles about access and conduct as you go about your surveying:

  • Regardless of land ownership it is always a good idea to ask permission from the owner or the property manager before you go surveying. Even if you know permission is not needed, it is still wise to let the owner or property manager know of your plans. You can then inquire about the locations of natural areas, research areas, or other sensitive areas in which you should not collect. Further, the property manager will appreciate the "heads up" should he or she subsequently receive questions or complaints about collecting activity on the property. This also holds true for private property – when you obtain permission, you are showing your respect for the rights of the landowner.
  • When people see you carrying a large net, some will be interested and are likely to ask questions. Most will be friendly and curious about what you are doing. Dragonfly surveying can be a great conversation starter from which discussions about resource conservation can often be steered. However, the possibility exists that you could run into someone who is offended by your activity. Always be courteous; never confrontational. Generally, it is also best to avoid collecting in busy campgrounds or parks where lots of people are congregated.
  • Respect the land and the rules established for the property. Don't litter, be careful not to trample on sensitive plants, and try not to cause any other form of damage. If you need a parking sticker on your vehicle, make sure you have one.

Permission requirements depending on land ownership

Private Land - Always contact the landowner for permission before you survey or collect on private land. Clearly explain what, when, and where you would like to survey and if you plan to collect any specimens. Written permission is not required, but it is always best to have it.
Private Lands enrolled under the Forest Crop Law or Managed Forest Law - Dragonfly collecting is not one of the activities for which these lands are available to the public. Therefore you need to ask the landowner for permission exactly as you would for private lands not enrolled in these programs.
State Properties - Dragonfly surveying and collecting are activities that are allowed in state-owned properties, but permits may be required if you plan to collect specimens. Permits are required to collect in state parks and other properties managed by the Bureau of Parks & Recreation and in state natural areas. For more information, refer to the DNR's site on species collection permits. Permits are not required to collect on other state-owned properties; however, letting the property manager know about your plans before you go is always a good idea, even if you will not be collecting any specimens. The state owns all lake beds and the water in all streams. This means that if you gain access at any point of public access and then keep your boots wet as you wade along a shoreline, you will not be trespassing.
Boat Landings and Road Crossings - You can always gain access at any public boat landing or any road crossing over a stream or river. These areas are owned either by the state, the county, or a township. Be aware, however, that the length of shoreline on each side of the access that is under municipal control can vary from site to site and may be quite short. Therefore, if you are uncertain about the riparian land ownership, keep your boots wet as you move away from the access point.
County Lands - In Wisconsin, 30 of the 72 counties have county forests (as of 2021), and rules about access and allowable activities can vary among counties. Therefore, it is a good idea to check with them on specifically what is permissible. In general, dragonfly surveying and collecting is allowed on their lands and permission is not required, provided the person is on foot. However, if you intend to access county land with a motorized vehicle, such as a pick-up truck, ATV, or dirt bike, you may need permission.
National Forests - Dragonfly surveying and collecting are allowed in National Forests and permission is not required. However, do not collect in Research Natural Areas (RNAs). You should contact the forest headquarters to find out where the RNAs are located.
Park Service Lands - Observing and photographing dragonflies are permitted in Park Service lands, but permits are required to collect dragonflies in these properties. Cooperative agreement permits can be obtained for collecting specimens.
Tribal Lands - Tribes must be contacted before any surveying or collecting is done on their lands. Scientific collecting may be approved as long as the tribe receives a copy of the data.
University Properties - These areas are few and small. Gain permission from the university before you collect dragonflies in these properties.
Military Lands - Ask for permission before you go on military lands. You are likely to be granted permission, but some active areas are off limits for obvious reasons.
The Nature Conservancy - TNC owns some lands and has rights on others. Observing and photographing dragonflies does not require a permit, but permits are required to collect on land owned by TNC. The permitting process takes time, so allow plenty of lead time if you would like to collect on TNC-owned land. For land that is not owned by TNC but on which they have rights, the landowner should be contacted before you survey or collect as you would in any private property situation.
This site is produced in conjunction with the Wisconsin Aquatic and Terrestrial Resources Inventory and sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The information presented on this site is subject to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Legal Notices, Disclaimers, and Terms of Use.