Wetlands Regulations & Procedure

The Wetlands Protection Act (Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 131, Section 40) and the Yarmouth Wetland Protection Bylaw (Chapter 143) protect wetlands and the public interests they serve, including:

  • Flood control
  • Prevention of pollution and storm damage 
  • Protection of public and private water supplies
  • Groundwater supply
  • Fisheries
  • Land containing shellfish
  • Wildlife habitat

These laws prevent any filling, excavation, or other alteration of the land surface, water levels, or vegetation in wetlands, 100 year floodplains, riverfront areas (added by the Rivers Protection Act) or other wetland resource areas regardless of ownership, without a permit from the local conservation commission. These public interests are protected by requiring a careful review of proposed work that may alter wetlands.  

MassMapper, an online mapping tool, depicts most jurisdictional resource areas. To see nearby resource areas, click here and type your address into the location box.


What are Wetlands?

Wetlands can be either coastal or inland. Coastal wetlands can include beaches, salt, marshes, dunes, as well as others. Inland wetlands include, marshes, wet meadows, bogs, and swamps. Wetlands that border on ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams are called bordering vegetated wetlands.

Do Wetlands have Buffer Zones?

Yes! Buffer Zones, the land within 100 feet of wetlands, are protected. Buffer Zones are critical in maintaining health and productivity of wetlands. The laws also regulate work within 200 feet of a river.

What Activities are Regulated?

The Conservation Commission must permit all activities that will remove, fill, dredge, or alter wetlands or their buffer zones. Regulated activities include:

  • Dumping leaves, brush, grass, or debris
  • Cutting trees or shrubs
  • Reconstructing lawns
  • Building or constructing structures
  • Grading, excavating, or filling
  • Changing stormwater discharge
  • Polluting wetlands or streams

Activities that do not need a permit include:

  • Mowing an existing lawn
  • Working in an existing garden
  • Pruning and maintaining existing landscaping
  • Planting native vegetation

What's the Application Process?

Applicants submit a permit application, plans, notify abutters, attend a public hearing, and resolve any concerns about protecting the wetlands. After receiving a permit you may begin work.

What Happens to Violators?

Violations include unpermitted:

  • Dumping of grass, leaves, brush, or debris in a wetland or buffer zone
  • Cutting of trees or shrubs within Riverfront Area, wetland, or buffer zone
  • Building without a permit within Riverfront Area, wetland, or buffer zones

Under the Wetland Protection Act and the Wetland By-Law, the Conservation Commission can require illegally altered land to be restored to its original condition, and can issue Enforcement Orders and Fines. 

Help Protect Wetlands!

You can do more than just obey the law:

  • Do not use fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, or deicers near wetlands, waterbodies and resource areas
  • Plant native vegetation 
  • Decrease the size of your lawn, and have a Cape Cod Lawn