Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Do You Need a Permit?

Find landscaping options for controlling coastal erosion and preventing storm damage, provided by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) StormSmart Coasts Program.

Before bringing in that backhoe (or even a shovel) to dig up invasive species, plant beachgrass, or put in a buffer zone garden along the coast, you will need to contact your local Conservation Commission to determine if a permit is necessary.

Where landscaping work is directly in a bank, dune, or other coastal resource area, an approved Order of Conditions (or local permit) may be required. Within the 100-foot buffer zone to the resource area, a Determination of Applicability may be all that is necessary if the work is minimal and won't cause excessive land disturbance. For planting or restoration activities in threatened or endangered species habitat, you will need to follow specific guidelines (see the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management's Guidelines for Barrier Beach Management). Some minor landscaping activities are not subject to regulation at all—see the Permit Checklist for Landscape Activities below. To ensure that you do not need a permit, check with your Conservation Commission regarding the procedures for your community.

According to the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, protective plantings designed to reduce erosion may be permitted on a coastal bank, and plantings compatible with natural vegetation are allowed on a dune. Although this type of work is usually encouraged by Conservation Commissions, this does not mean that a homeowner can perform the work without the proper approvals.

For copies of the Wetlands Protection Act and Regulations, visit the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection website.

Definition of Resource Area

A resource area is defined under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act Regulations as a bank, freshwater wetland, coastal wetland, beach, dune, flat, marsh, or swamp bordering on the ocean, an estuary, a creek, a river, a stream, a pond, or a lake. Resource areas also include land under any of the waterbodies listed above; land subject to tidal action, flooding, or coastal storm flowage; and riverfront areas.

Permit Checklist for Landscape Activities

This table includes permits required under state regulations. Stricter local standards may apply—check with your Conservation Commission.

Activities that Require State Permits* Minor Activities that Do Not Require State Permits
  • Planting trees, shrubs, and groundcovers in a wetland resource area (i.e., beach, bank, dune, salt marsh).
  • Clearing or pruning naturally vegetated areas (including removal of invasive species) within a resource area or the 100-foot buffer zone.
  • Filling or grading within a resource area or the 100-foot buffer zone.
  • Cutting a path to the shoreline.
  • Construction (buildings—including sheds, septic systems, seawalls, etc.) within a resource area or 100-foot buffer zone.
  • Planting native trees, shrubs, or groundcover (excluding turf lawns) in the 100-foot buffer zone (i.e., outside of any resource area).
  • Pruning of existing landscaped areas.
  • Mowing of established lawns.
  • Converting impervious surfaces to vegetated surfaces in the 100-foot buffer zone, provided erosion and sedimentation controls are used during construction.

*Under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act Regulations, these permits include Determinations of Applicability or Orders of Conditions.

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