Freshwater Wetlands Permit Program: Do I Need A Permit?
Threshold of Regulation
Except in the Adirondack Park, where the Adirondack Park Agency administers the Freshwater Wetlands Act and employs a lower threshold, a wetland must be 12.4 acres or larger for protection under the Freshwater Wetlands Act. Smaller wetlands may be protected when the commissioner determines they have unusual local importance in providing one or more of the functions described in Article 24 of the Environmental Conservation Law (see below). Adjacent areas are outside wetlands. They extend 100 feet from the wetland boundary, measured horizontally. In rare cases, this adjacent area distance measurement may be larger.
Under the Freshwater Wetlands Act, DEC regulates activities in freshwater wetlands and in their adjacent areas. DEC regulates such activities to prevent, or at least to minimize, impairment of wetland functions.
The wetland categories used in the regulations are identified by the types of vegetation present. The regulations identify
- classifications of uses
- procedures for conducting activities in wetlands
- requirements for conducting activities in wetlands
Almost any activity which may adversely impact the natural values of the wetlands or their adjacent areas is regulated. Some activities requiring a permit include:
- Construction of buildings, roadways, septic systems, bulkheads, dikes, or dams;
- Placement of fill, excavation, or grading;
- Modification, expansion, or extensive restoration of existing structures;
- Drainage, except for agriculture;
- Application of pesticides in wetlands.
Do Not Start a Project Before Obtaining a Permit!
You must obtain all necessary permits before commencing work on a project that requires any DEC permit. Persons commencing work on such a project before obtaining the required permits, and any contractors engaged in such work, are subject to enforcement action by the DEC. Such action may include:
- Civil or criminal court action, or both,
- Fines, or
- An order to remove structures or materials or perform other remedial action, or both a fine and an order.
Exempt Activities Do Not Require a Permit
Following are the most common activities exempted from regulation. No DEC permit is required for:
- Normal agricultural practices, except filling, clear cutting of trees, or construction of non-agricultural structures;
- The harvesting of natural products and recreational activities (fishing, hunting, trapping, hiking, swimming, picnicking, or firewood collection);
- Continuance of lawfully existing land uses;
- Routine maintenance of existing functional structures such as repairing broken docks, repainting structures, or resurfacing paved areas; and
- Selective cutting of trees and harvesting of fuel wood (not clear cutting).