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Frequently Asked Questions

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How can I identify wetlands on a property? What is a wetland? 

Wetlands are areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. In some cases, it will not be immediately obvious that a wetland exists. However, wetlands generally develop their own unique physical, chemical, and ecological characteristics. Because wetlands are identified according to the site-specific development of physical and biological conditions, an on-site inspection is always necessary to determine, with certainty, whether wetlands are present. Other information, such as National Wetland Inventory Mapper developed by the USFWS, County Soil Surveys, and aerial photos provide indications of where wetlands may exist. However, these may not include all wetlands and may identify areas that once were, but no longer are, wetlands. As a result, the actual conditions at a property will always take precedence over any information source.  

Is it legal to build on a wetland? Aren’t all wetlands protected? 

A wetland may be under threat of development even though it is protected by law. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation – Natural Resource Section strives to reduce wetland impacts, adequately compensate for wetland loss and preserve particularly precious natural resources. Wetlands on privately owned lands without conservation protection in place are not always protected from potential development. In many circumstances a developer can demonstrate that there are no practicable alternatives to impacting a wetland. TDEC works with developers to minimize impacts, but ultimately some wetland impacts are allowed with a permit. It is important to provide a route for wetland impacts on some land, because the state of Tennessee must recognize the rights of private landowners.

Can I clear vegetation in or near a wetland on my residential property?

Generally, if you are hand clearing vegetation you do not need a permit from TDEC, but check with your local TDEC Field Office and your local government before clearing vegetation. You may need permission from your homeowners association, local government or local wetlands board to clear vegetation in a wetland. Keep in mind that wetlands are valuable habitat for native plants and wildlife so it is important to try to minimize the amount vegetation removed. Normal residential gardening, lawn and landscape maintenance in or near a wetland generally does not require an Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit (ARAP) from TDEC. This exemption only applies to normal residential gardening, lawn and landscape maintenance, or other similar activities that are incidental to an occupant's ongoing residential use of property and of minimal ecological impact (including mowing, planting, fertilizing, mulching, tilling, vegetation removal by hand or by un-mechanized hand tools, placement of decorative stone, fencing and play equipment).

How can I protect a wetland or stream in my neighborhood?  

Review the Voluntary Wetland Protection page for a number of ideas regarding how to protect wetlands on your property. 

Is there a wetland on my property?

Contact Caitlin Elam with TDEC’s Division of Water Resources – Natural Resource Unit by email at Caitlin.Elam@tn.gov or by phone at 615-532-0359.