Update: Study Committee on the Preservation of Burial Sites

To Wisconsin Archeological Society and Wisconsin Archeological Survey members:

We would like to share this brief note regarding Wisconsin’s burial sites preservation law based on our experience participating with the 2016 Legislative Council Study Committee on the Preservation of Burial Sites. The study committee, chaired by Rep. Amy Loudenbeck and co-chaired by Rep. Robert Brooks, held five meetings, each lasting about six hours. Many individuals, including several WASociety and WASurvey members, presented information and answered questions relating to their areas of expertise. Committee members, aided by Legislative Council staff attorneys, discussed a wide range of topics regarding the current application of and possible revisions to statute 157.70.

The two of us greatly appreciated all public input to the study committee, both in person and via correspondence, especially from WAS members and other archaeologists, from tribal representatives, and from Wisconsin Historical Society staff members.

All members of the study committee agreed on the central intent of statute 157.70—to preserve burial sites—but several members wanted to see changes that would permit or require some form of physical or geophysical verification of the presence of human remains before a site could be cataloged. The majority of committee members felt that other forms of information usually were sufficient to make a well-supported determination and therefore, most committee members, determined that invasive or other forms of testing should not be required.

As we’ve mentioned in past postings, the entire documentary record of the study committee is online at https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lc/study/2016/1493.

2016 Legislative Council Study Committee on the ...


The Study Committee is directed to review s. 157.70, Stats., to determine whether the statute adequately balances the interests of scientists, landowners, developers ...

The end result of the committee’s work is LRB-0821/1, a bill that consists of a set of recommended statutory changes to statute 157.70 and related provisions. As you’ll see if you open that document, all of the changes are explained in the prefatory note. The changes are relatively minor, generally clearing up some ambiguities and gaps in the current statute and making the cataloging process (and removal of sites from the catalog) more transparent. Also, certain property owners would be required to notify prospective buyers of the presence of known burial sites on the property.

The final vote to approve LRB-0821/1 was 10-1 in favor, with two members not voting. The only “No” vote was that of the owner of Wingra Stone Quarry, who is involved with litigation regarding mounds on his property. All four legislators (the chair and co-chair, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Dave Considine) voted Aye. The Legislative Council will introduce the bill this 2017 session, and it will be assigned to a committee. Anything can happen, at any point. As an archaeological and historic preservation community, we need to stay vigilant. Any legislator can try to undermine the bill. There was plenty of buzz during and after the committee meetings that changes to the bill may be introduced. Just remember what happened a little over a year ago. For what it may be worth, Rep. Brooks (the study committee co-chair, and co-sponsor of the previous session’s bill that would have undercut burial site preservation) is co-chair of the full Legislative Council. See who else is on the Legislative Council at http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/committees/joint/1692.

Our recommendation is that WAS members thank the Study Committee legislators for crafting a good bill and urge them as well as your own legislators (especially if they are on the Legislative Council) to support LRB-0821/1 as is.

For additional perspectives, here are two recent articles:



Thanks again to the WAS members who addressed the Study Committee and who communicated with us. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either of us.


Bill Green and Kira Kaufmann