Frequently Asked Questions about Wetlands

Q: Are wetlands protected in Vermont?

A: Yes. Jurisdictional wetlands (Class I and Class II) are protected under the Vermont Wetland Rules and most activities like draining, dredging, filling and clearing within jurisdictional wetlands and their buffer zones require a permit. Most wetlands in Vermont are Class II wetlands with a 50-foot buffer zone. There are a small number of Class I wetlands that have larger buffer zones, and these Class I wetlands are mapped on the Vermont Significant Wetland Inventory map. Any activity in the wetland buffer zone may need a Vermont Wetland Permit before you start work.

Q: How do I know if this property has jurisdictional wetlands?

A: The first step is to use the Wetlands Screening Tool. The wetland screening tool was developed to help you navigate all the mapping layers which indicate a property may have wetlands on it. In addition to the Vermont Wetland Inventory Maps, the tool also screens for nearby hydric soils, wetland projects, wetland permits, wetland natural community types, and wetland advisory layers. The results for a given property are listed for you to see, with explanations of each layer and recommended next steps. You can also produce a map of the results. To get started, all you need is the 911 address or the SPAN number for an undeveloped property. You can find the wetland screening tool at the bottom of our Wetland Map Page.

Another great tool to use is the Landowners Guide to Wetlands. The mapping does not always pick up wetland features.  If there is evidence on the ground of saturation, drainage patterns outside of the marked springs, or other wetland features you may want to confirm the presence/absence of wetlands through a site visit with our office or with a qualified consultant that no jurisdictional wetlands are present. 

Follow up may require a field visit by your DEC District Wetlands Ecologist.  During the free site visit they would be able to determine if a wetland is present, if the wetland is jurisdictional, if a consultant delineation may be required, and if the project you have in mind may require a permit. You can schedule a site visit or project review with the DEC Wetlands Program by filling out a Site Visit Request Form

Alternately, you can also hire a wetland consultant to help you with this wetland review. 

You may need wetland delineation from a consultant to determine the boundary of the wetland in relation to your project, or if a permit is required. Once this delineation has been obtained, you should schedule a site visit with the District Wetlands Ecologist to review the delineation.

Please note, DEC field visits take place during the growing season (approximately April – October).  It is hard to find wetlands when plants are dead under fallen leaves or buried under the snow.


Q: What needs to happen next if there is wetland mapping on the property?

A: If you do not have any plans to start a new activity on the parcel, nothing needs to happen.  If you do have plans, follow up may require a field visit by your DEC District Wetlands Ecologist.  During the site visit the District Wetland Ecologist would be able to confirm a wetland is present, if the wetland is jurisdictional, if a delineation may be required, and if the project you have in mind may require a permit. 

You can schedule a site visit or project review with the District Wetlands Ecologist by filling out a Site Visit Request Form.

Alternately, you can also hire a wetland consultant to help you with this wetland review: Consultant List

You may need a wetland delineation to determine the boundary of the wetland in relation to your project, or if a permit is required. Once this delineation has been obtained, you should schedule a site visit with our office to review the delineation.

Please note, District Wetland Ecologist field visits typically only occur during the growing season (approximately April – October).

Q: What is a wetland delineation?

A: A wetland delineation is a determination of precise boundaries of the wetland edge on the ground through field surveys. A wetland delineator uses the wetland regulatory definition and any supplementary criteria. A delineator uses wetland maps (if they are available), other available maps and field observations of water presence (hydrology), vegetation, and soils to draw this boundary on the ground.  Points of the delineation are picked up by survey or by sub-meter GPS to create site plans showing the wetland boundary in relation to a proposed project. Delineations are performed in the growing season (April – October). If a project is proposed in or near delineated wetlands, boundary confirmation from your District Wetland Ecologist will be necessary.

You can find out more about delineation here: 

Wetland Identification

You can find a consultant to perform a wetland delineation here: 

Consultant List

Q: Are the online maps wetland delineations?

A: No, this mapping is NOT a delineation. The online maps show estimates of wetland area interpreted  from aerial photography. These maps are only approximate and do not show accurate wetland boundaries.  In actuality, there may be more or less wetland present than what is shown on the map.  A field delineation is required to determine accurate wetland boundaries.  Maps showing field delineated wetlands are usually site plans with specific points picked up by the surveyor. Delineations are good for five years, then the wetland boundary needs to be re-examined.  For more information about the online map layers present on your property, use the Wetland Screening tool informational links.

Q: When is a site visit by the District Wetlands Ecologist necessary?

A: A site visit can determine if a wetland is present, if the wetland is jurisdictional, if a delineation may be required, and if the project you have in mind may require a permit. A site visit may also be required to confirm a consultant’s boundary. Any work except allowed uses that occur within the wetland or a 50-foot buffer from the wetland requires permits. This includes removing vegetation, filling, dredging, ditching, draining or grading in the wetland or buffer. You can schedule a site visit with our program by filling out this form: 

Site Visit Request Form

Alternately, you can also hire a wetland consultant to help you with this wetland review: 

Consultant List

Q: Can I clear trees/shrubs in wetlands and buffers without a wetland permit?

A: It depends. Clearing typically requires a wetland permit unless it is a silviculture activity following the specific guidelines for an allowed use under the Wetland Rules. For the purposes of determining if a clearing/cutting activity is considered an allowed use under the Vermont Wetland Rules, silvicultural activities are defined as: those activities associated with the sustained management of land for silvicultural purposes including the planting, harvesting and removal of trees (VWR Section 2.31). Silvicultural activities do not include the harvest and removal of trees for reasons other than sustained silviculture. Examples of tree cutting activities that are not considered “silvicultural activities” include tree clearing for utility Right-of-Ways; conversion of wetland forest or shrub land to agriculture; and cutting woody vegetation in wetlands or buffer zones for building lots, lawns, viewsheds or shade management. In these examples, the standard of “silviculture activity” is not met as the purpose of the clearing is not for forest management, and/or the subsequent use of the protected areas of wetland and buffer after the tree harvest prevents the area from returning to forest which can be harvested again in the future (i.e., not sustained management of land for silvicultural purposes). Silviculture is an allowed use in Class II wetlands and buffer zones provided you follow the AMPs found here: Acceptable Management Practices.

Q: Can I fill in a Class II wetland or buffer zone?

A: Not without a wetland permit.  Wetland permitting is required for any work that occurs in the wetland or buffer zone which is not considered an allowed use.  Avoidance and minimization of impacts is a requirement of permitting process, and the burden of proof is on the applicant to demonstrate there will be no undue-adverse impacts on wetland functions and values as a result of your project.  If you can stay outside of the wetland and buffer, a permit will not be required. (This is the quickest way to move forward with your project). If you can minimize impacts, you may qualify for a general permit.  You can find information about state wetland permitting here: Wetland Permit Information

Q: Can I build trails through the wetland in a wetland or buffer zone?

A: Low impact trails, ones that only require raking duff away, or are footpaths, may be considered allowed uses in wetlands and buffer zones. Boardwalks and cat-walks below 5-feet in width are also considered an allowed use if they follow DEC Wetland Program specific best management practices and do not involve any dredging, draining, filling, grading within the wetland or 50 feet from the wetland. Any trail work that requires grading (such as machine-groomed mountain bike trails), filling (such as sure-matt, mulch, or gravel on the surface), draining (such as ditching), or cutting woody vegetation for clearance in wetland or buffer would require a permit from our program. The first step is to determine if you have wetlands within the proposed trail system. This may require a site visit from DEC Wetlands Program or a wetland delineation from a consultant so that you can understand where wetlands are in relation to the project. You can find more information on trails in wetlands here:

Wetland Trail Guidance

Catwalk Best Management Practices

Wetlands and Trails Video

Q: Can I build a new pond?

A: If the pond can be built within an upland area, or if a Class III wetland is present, then the State takes no jurisdiction over the activity, although Army Corps of Engineers may take jurisdiction of the Class III wetland area.  In addition, if the pond is to be built in-line with a perennial (year round flow) stream (whether associated with a wetland or not), you would need to get a stream alteration permit from the DEC River’s Program.  If you were to apply for a wetland permit for a pond located within a Class II wetland or 50-foot buffer, it is highly unlikely that it could be approved. To be able to issue a permit, you first have to demonstrate that the impacts to the wetland cannot be avoided.  It is challenging to demonstrate that a new pond at a specific location is required and that impacts can’t be avoided.  Avoidance includes choosing a parcel of land that is suitable for a pond and selecting a site for a pond that does not impact a wetland.  

Q: Can I clean out or enlarge an existing pond?

A: Expansion outside the current footprint of the pond into wetland or buffer zone or reestablishment of a naturalized pond would require a permit.  

In general, a manmade pond can be dredged periodically to keep it in open water condition, as long as you maintain the existing footprint. Here is a link to the Pond Best Management Practices that talks about how to clean out and maintain a man-made pond within the Allowed Use of the Vermont Wetland Rules: Pond Best Management Practices.

Q: There is already a structure, can I maintain or improve/expand it in a wetland or buffer zone?

A: Repair and replacement of an existing structure is considered an allowed use under Section 6.12 of the Vermont Wetland Rules as long as you do not expand the area of the structure more than 250 square feet in wetland or buffer zone.  Allowed uses do not need permits.  In many instances, modifying the structure does not need a permit either.  You can learn more about this allowed use here: Maintenance Allowed Use.

Q: Beavers are coming in, what can I do?

A: New beaver activity can be managed through removal of beaver and/or manipulation of the beaver dam to lower water where there is a conflict with public health, safety or property. Here is a link to the ANR Beaver Best Management Practices documents: 

Beaver BMP Brochure

Beaver BMP Technical Guidance 

Q: Do I need a permit to replace a culvert in a drive through wetland?

A: If the proposed impacts to replace the culvert are less than 250 sq. ft, the culvert is no smaller than existing, and the culvert elevation is unchanged then no state wetland permit is required. As a note, any aspect of the project that overlaps the existing road prism or the existing footprint of the current culvert/bridge is an allowed use. Only if the culvert footprint is larger, wing walls added, a road detour needed, or a temporary access road for construction is required that the new areas of disturbance are calculated towards the 250 square foot number for a permit trigger.  Learn more about this allowed use here: Maintenance Allowed Use.

Q: Can I upgrade a woods/farm road to a driveway in a wetland or buffer zone?

A: Wetland jurisdiction for improving roads in wetlands depends on the current condition and/or the original construction of the road. If the road is in reasonably good shape, and does not require significant improvement to use it as is (maybe just replacing culverts to maintain it) a permit may not be required. If the road is naturalized (has grown up into woody vegetation); is more of a "travel way" (no constructed road bed) vs. a constructed feature that would need to be upgraded; or if significant improvement such as fill, ditching, changing the water regime is needed for the new proposed use, these activities may require a wetland permit. You can find more about the nuances of how roads are treated in the Vermont Wetland Rules here: 

Roads and the Vermont Wetland Rules 

and about the maintenance allowed use here: 

Maintenance Allowed Use

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