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February 2nd is not only Groundhog Day, it is also World Wetlands Day. This is fitting since the existence of fresh water wetlands are vital for the survival of so many species, including groundhogs (and human beings, for that matter).

Wetlands are land areas saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally. Among the many important functions provided by wetlands are the purification and filtering of harmful waste from the water, helping in the reduction of flooding, providing habitat for more than 100,000 known species, and providing breeding grounds for many of those species.

In recognition of the importance of wetlands, efforts have been made to protect these important resources so they can continue to serve their important function.

In New York, wetlands are generally regulated on the federal level through the Army Corps of Engineers, on the State level by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and also through local municipal regulations. Each level of regulations has different definitions, rules and standards.

While it is certainly best to avoid disturbance of wetlands entirely, there are times where it is unavoidable to reasonably use or develop your property. The first step to take is to determine whether there are any wetlands on your property. New York State wetlands are mapped, and that mapping can be located at the DEC website at: www.dec.ny.gov. For federal wetlands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has a national wetlands inventory, www.fws.gov/wetlands, which can help you determine whether your property has soil types that indicate whether wetlands might be located on your property.  There are certain activities that are exempt from permit requirements, including certain agricultural activities.

If you have determined that you have or might have wetlands on your property and you are considering to engage in activities that are not exempt from permit requirements, it is important to retain professional assistance. Wetlands specialists can delineate the boundaries of wetlands and, together with engineering consultants, can design methods to cross or fill the wetlands in the least intrusive manner, and also, if necessary, prepare mitigation plans. Legal consultants will advise you regarding the laws and regulations, and assist you in navigating the regulatory process.

For more information on general functions of wetlands and World Wetlands Day, I invite you to check out the website: www.worldwetlandsday.org


John C. Cappello, J&G, LLPJohn C. Cappello is a partner practicing Land Use/Environmental and Municipal Law. He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.

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