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Landowner's Guide to Wetlands

Check for Wetlands Before You Buy or Build

How wetland laws may impact your land buy or building project

How to Identify a Wetland

Vermont has many types of wetlands. At first glance, an area of wetland may not be obvious to identify. Follow the steps below to help identify if the parcel you want to buy or build involves a wetland.

Step 1: Identify Wetlands

There are several ways that you can check for wetlands on a parcel that you are looking to buy and develop:

  • Wetland Screening Tool: the easiest and recommended way to see if wetlands may impact your plan. Scan the QR code to find Vermont's one-step wetlands screening tool, scan code to the right or visit:
  • Wetlands Indicators Checklist: use the checklist to the right to look for signs of wetland plants, soils or hydrology as you walk through the land you want to buy or develop.

Step 2: Understand Vermont Wetland Laws

Wetlands laws protect land that offers significant value to Vermonters. Most projects within a wetland, or a 50 foot buffer zone surrounding a wetland, will need a permit. Not all projects can receive a permit. The wetlands permit process is specific. A valid project is appropriate to the size of the lot and avoids impacts to the wetland and its buffer zone. You may need to redesign the project size, location, or configuration to avoid an impact. Some land is not suitable for development. Find more detailed information at:

Step 3: Contact a Wetland Professional

If a property you want to buy or develop has wetlands, and your project may impact the wetland or its 50 foot buffer zone, you may need a permit. A qualified wetland scientist may also need to determine the wetland boundary.

To find a wetland scientist, please view the wetland consultant list.

Wetland Indicators Checklist:

This checklist is a guide. Wetland professionals need to delineate wetland boundaries in VT.

Is Water Present?

____ Are there ponds, streams, lakes, springs or seeps present?

____ Are depressions present where water pools during wet periods in the growing season?

____ Is the ground often soggy?

____ Do trees have shallow roots, water marks on the trunks, or forest debris deposited on their trunks?

Are Wetland Plants Present?

____ Are cattails, sedges, rushes, New England aster, sphagnum moss, false hellebore, dwarf raspberry, blueberry, or marsh marigold present?

____ Are sensitive, ostrich, or cinnamon ferns present?

____ Are willow, red maple, tamarack, white cedar, balsam fir, black spruce, alder, green or black ash trees or saplings present?

____ Are meadowsweet, leatherleaf, steeplebush, arrowwood, or dogwood present?

____ Do trees in the area have roots growing across the ground, swollen trunk bases, or flat root bases when wind thrown or tipped over?

Is Your Soil a Wetland Soil?

*Dig a hole 20 inches down to answer the questions below.

____ Is the soil dark brown, black, gray, gray-blue or gray-green, does it have rusty, red, or dark streaks?

____ Does the soil smell like rotten eggs, feel greasy, mushy, or wet? Can you squeeze out water?

____ Does water enter the hole after a few minutes?

Additional Wetland Indicators:

____ Are there places you don’t mow because it is too wet?

____ Do you think to yourself, “That’s a good place for a pond”?

____ Are there places you wouldn’t drive heavy equipment for fear of sinking?

____ Do the trees tip over frequently in your woods?

____ Is there an area that is wet only part of the year?

____ Does the vegetation look different in a spot lower than surrounding areas?

____ Do you hear frogs during the spring from that wet area?

If you checked any of the above, its likely you have a wetland. Now what?

In most cases, if you can stay 50 feet away or more from the edge of the wetland, you won’t need to do anything. If you don’t know where the edge of the wetland is, contact a wetland professional. They can guide you through your next steps, which may be a permit. To find a wetland scientist, please view the wetland consultant list.

Wetlands Violations are Costly

  • The time and money it takes to fix a wetland violation is more than the cost to get a wetland permit before building.
  • Violations of environmental laws are subject to fines of up to $42,500 for the initial violation.
  • Any work you do may need removal, and the wetland may need restoring, as part of an enforcement action.
  • Ongoing enforcement may undermine the marketability of property.
  • You may lose eligibility for funding, such as USDA Crop Insurance for farmers.

Do You Need A Permit?
Consider the Following:

Maybe you don’t need to impact those wetlands!

  • Wetland permits are only needed if the activity you propose is in a wetland, or within 50 feet of the edge of a wetland.
  • If buying land, make sure there is plenty of upland for your driveway, home, lawn and septic.
  • If you are near wetlands, look at the following ways to avoid impacts to wetlands and buffer zones:
    • Adjust the location and orientation of buildings so they are in uplands
    • Find out if there is more than one way to access the site
    • Scale back the size of your project

For permitting information, please visit our Permit Information page.

Have Questions or Need More Information?

State of Vermont:
Department of Environmental Conservation
Watershed Management Division
Wetlands Program
Call: 802-490-6195
Project Inquiry Form

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Click here or on the photo below to download the Landowner's Guide to Wetlands in PDF format.

Landowner's Guide to Wetlands Cover.  An image showing lily pads growing in the foreground and high grasses in the background.

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