Beginning with Habitat


Wetland and Shoreland Zoning Tools

1. Introduction to Wetland/Shoreland Zoning Tools | 2. Definitions (pdf) | 3. Model Wetlands Ordinance | 4. Shoreland Zoning Amendments | 5. Resource Protection Ordinance | 6. In Lieu Fee Mitigation

Introduction to Wetland and Shoreland Zoning Tools

Importance of Wetlands and Shoreland Zones

Wetlands and riparian areas along the Marsh River

Wetlands and shoreland zones, or riparian areas, provide important habitat for the majority of Maine's terrestrial vertebrate species for a part of their life cycle. They also provide important services to Maine's communities, including water quality protection and recreational opportunities.

Despite the importance of wetland and riparian areas and despite the regulations that currently exist to protect these areas, wetlands losses continue to occur. Cumulative loss of wetlands has led to significant stormwater runoff problems in some Maine communities and threatens to eradicate local populations of some wildlife species. Conservation of wetlands and riparian areas is essential to ensuring the full complement of Maine's plant and animal species on the landscape.

Regulations Protecting Wetlands and Shoreland Zones

Most wetlands and shoreland areas in Maine are given some level of oversight through the permitting process. At the Federal level, Congress has established federal regulatory power concerning wetlands under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The federal definition of regulated wetlands is established through the US Army Corps of Engineers and included in the 1987 US Army Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual (see definitions section attached below).

Maine is also charged with implementing provisions of the federal Clean Water Act at the state level. In order to implement wetland protections at the state level, in 1988 Maine passed the Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) that established state regulatory authority over wetlands. The state definition of regulated wetlands is consistent with the federal definition.

At the local level, Maine communities regulate wetlands under the home rule provisions of the Maine Constitution and under Maine's Municipal Shoreland Zoning statute. While the federal and state definitions of regulated wetlands are consistent, the definition of regulated wetlands under Municipal Shoreland Zoning differs (see definitions section attached below). As drafted, the Municipal Shoreland Zoning guidelines give explicit authority to local governments to regulate non-forested wetlands greater than ten acres in size and small wetlands and forested wetlands receive little to no protection. Loss of these wetland can result in cumulative losses that can have a significant impact on habitat as well as the important services these areas provide Maine communities. The minimum guidelines defined in the Municipal Shoreland Zoning statue, however, leave the option for towns to go beyond regulating only larger non-forested wetlands should they choose to do so.

Furthermore, the different definitions of "Freshwater Wetlands" and "Streams" used by federal and state rules and local shoreland zoning rules often lead to confusion at the local level. It is important to point out that towns can adopt definitions consistent with state and federal rules and by doing so will gain an added level of local authority leaving these towns not entirely reliant on the state and federal review process to protect these important local landscape features. For more information on the differences in definitions under federal, state and local rules, see the attached document, "Wetland and Shoreland Zoning Definitions".

The Beginning with Habitat Toolbox provides several examples of how towns have adopted more specific rules beyond what minimum shoreland zoning guidelines require. As a result, these towns have not only increased habitat protections, but are in better control of protecting surface and groundwater quality, and managing stormwater at the local level.

Example Tools

  • Wetland and Shoreland Zoning Definitions- A document clarifying the differences in federal, state and local wetland and shoreland zoning definitions.
  • Model Municipal Freshwater Wetlands Ordinance- A tool to reduce the cumulative impacts of wetland losses resulting from small wetland alterations not subject to compensation requirements under state law or regulation.
  • Amendments to Shoreland Zoning to Protect Habitat- Suggested amendments to local shoreland zoning ordinances to protect habitat adjacent to significant wetlands.
  • Resource Protection Ordinances- Tools to implement specific protections for natural resources that fall through the gaps of typical Shoreland Zoning rules, including increased buffer protections for streams, wetlands and vernal pools.
  • In Lieu Fee Mitigation Funds- A wetland compensation tool that may facilitate municipal participation in the mitigation process by providing a source of dedicated funds that can implement pre-identified land protection and restoration projects involving significant wetlands.

Useful Links

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