Information for Landowners
What do I do if I believe I have a burial site on my land?
If you believe you have a burial site on your land you may contact the burial sites preservation program at (608) 264-6494 to confirm that we have a record of the site. If we do not have a record, we may ask that you send several photos of the location to help us better evaluate the information or a copy of your deed if land was set aside for a cemetery. If necessary, we may schedule a site visit to have a closer look.
If I have a burial site on my land, am I obligated to allow anyone to come on to my land?
No, you are under no legal obligation to do so.
Do I need to disclose the location of a burial site if I am planning to sell my land?
There is no requirement under the burial sites law to disclose that information to a potential buyer or realtor. If the site on your land is catalogued and you are already receiving a proportional property tax exemption, buyers will be interested to learn that they will be receiving a ‘break' on their property taxes once they own the land.
Do I still own my land after a burial site has been catalogued by the burial sites preservation program?
Yes, you still own your land.
What do I need to do if I accidentally disturb a burial site?
Stop work and call the burial sites preservation program at (800) 342-7834 to report the discovery. A qualified staff member will determine if the bone is of human origin. If it is not human, you may proceed with your project.
If you attempt to contact the burial sites office and there is no one available, please do not remove the bone. If, for safety reasons you are not able to wait until you can reach staff, please contact your local police or sheriff's department and advise them that they should contact the burial sites preservation program regarding the discovery as soon as practical.
If it is determined that the bone is of human origin by office staff, and you cannot modify your project to avoid the burial, you must apply in writing to the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society to disturb the uncatalogued site. Staff will work with you to facilitate the process.
If I know I have a burial site on my land and may need to request to disturb it, what do I need to do?
Under Wisconsin's Burial Sites law, no burial site may be disturbed without a permit from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society. If you are not able to avoid the burial(s), you may request permission to disturb the site. If the site is not catalogued you must first obtain authorization to do so by writing to the director who will then approve your project in writing; work cannot begin until the permit has been issued. Please contact us for specific information regarding the application process to disturb a catalogued burial site. If a direct kinship or cultural, tribal or religious affiliation can be demonstrated, you will be required to hire a qualified archaeologist, approved by the director, to excavate the burial site. To contact the director, write to:
Dr. Ellsworth H. Brown
Wisconsin Historical Society
816 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
I have received a permit from the director to excavate a burial site using a Qualified Archaeologist. How do I find one?
Download the Qualified Archaeologist List(PDF, 60 KB), or call the office at 608-264-6503 to obtain a paper copy or an alternate format. The burial(s) must also be analyzed by a Qualified Skeletal Analyst.
Where may I find a Qualified Skeletal Analyst?
Download the Qualified Skeletal Analyst List (PDF, 50 KB), or call the office at 608-264-6503 to obtain a paper copy or an alternate format.
I have a catalogued burial site on my land. What steps do I need to take to apply to disturb the site?
You must first apply to the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society for permission to disturb the site. Because the site is catalogued, you must notify all persons listed on the Registry of Interested Persons who then have an opportunity to provide input to the director as to whether or not he/she should approve the request. Any person or organization on the list may also request an administrative hearing. If a hearing is requested by any party, the decision as to whether or not the site may disturbed is then transferred to the Division of Hearings and Appeals and the director no longer is in the position to approve or deny the request. You, as landowner, will be notified of the date and time of the hearing.
What if I want to appeal the decision of the Administrative Law Judge?
You may appeal the decision to the Burial Sites Preservation Board, a quasi-judicial authority.
Are there penalties for knowingly disturbing burial sites or for not reporting disturbances?
Yes. Upon the request of the Burial Sites Preservation Board, the county district attorney or the Attorney General's Office may take action resulting in monetary fines.
May I report a burial site disturbance anonymously?
Yes. We do not need your personal information to follow-up on your call or e-mail, although your e-mail is a public record and subject to the state's open records law. We will only need information on where the site is located – county, township, section (if you know it) and landowner's name and the approximate date of disturbance. If the disturbance occurred prior to the passage of the law in 1987 we cannot, retroactively, take action.
What do I do if I see that a marked cemetery has been vandalized?
Please contact your local police or sheriff's department.
Am I allowed to perform normal farming activities or cut trees on land that has a burial site on it?
Under the law, you may farm land and cut trees as long as you do not disturb the human remains in a burial site or the surface characteristics of that burial site.
Who has jurisdiction over a burial site on my land if I have private property located within the boundaries of an Indian reservation?
Please call 1(800) 342-7834 (if you are in Wisconsin); otherwise call (608) 264-6503. If the discovery is made on Federal or Tribal land, or private land within the exterior boundaries of an Indian reservation, please contact the specific Tribal Historic Preservation Office or the nearest office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to comply with the Federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
I have a Native American mound/mounds on my land and would like to properly care for it. What maintenance activities are permitted? What activities are discouraged?
We encourage landowners to take an active role in the preservation and protection of mounds on their land, including certain maintenance activities. In areas where grass will grow, please keep ground cover on the mounds because ground cover prevents erosion over time. If there are trees growing out of the mounds and you would like to remove them, please do so by hand, if possible, rather than running heavy machinery over the mound. If it is impossible to do so by hand, please wait until the ground is frozen to minimize any damage to the surface of the mound. If you remove trees, please cut the tree even with the surface of the mound and leave the stump in place. If a tree growing in a mound has fallen and has disrupted the mound, please contact the burial sites preservation program so that we can recommend appropriate restoration activities and, if necessary, schedule a site visit to inspect the site if bone is visible.
Does the burial sites preservation program provide funding for the care and maintenance of cemeteries and Native American burial sites?
The program does not have such funds but recommends partnering with various local volunteer groups who may be able to provide ‘hands on' assistance to clean up overgrown cemeteries and clear mounds of invasive species and other debris.