New York Field Office
Northeast Region

Federal Permits

Federal Permits to Impact Wetlands and Other Aquatic Areas:

Federal interest in water resources began in the 1850s when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of commerce on nontidal waters and determined that the navigability on such waters should not be restricted. These waterways, also recognized for their important natural resources, were eventually held protected in trust for all people. The trust resources of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) include endangered species, anadromous fish, migratory birds, and wetland-related habitats.

Recognizing that the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters was critical to our society, Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and later the Clean Water Act to maintain this integrity. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was given regulatory authority over these resources and issues permits for activities in streams, lakes, rivers, wetlands, etc.

Every year, our office reviews approximately 250 public notices prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard. In these public notices, applicants propose to impact wetlands, streams, and other water bodies. The Service is effective at reducing the impacts of these projects on fish and wildlife resources and ensuring that mitigation is provided to achieve fish and wildlife benefits.

Wetlands photo

What are Wetlands?

Wetlands are lands that are transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water for at least part of the growing season. Wetlands generally support a prevalence of hydrophytic (water-loving) plants, are underlain by undrained hydrophytic soil, or have a non-soil substrate that is inundated or saturated with water.

Why are Wetlands Valuable?

Wetlands provide important feeding, breeding, and resting habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife. They can soak up and retain rainfall, thereby reducing flooding of adjacent and downstream upland areas. Wetland plants and sediments can also filter out nutrients, sediment, organic matter, and contaminants, preventing or slowing their release into streams, lakes, and groundwater. Wetlands also provide beautiful places for people to hunt, fish, hike, and just enjoy natural resources.

What is Happening to Wetlands in New York?

Docks on Cross Lake Docks and other Shoreline Development - Docks, piers, and boathouses enhance our enjoyment of aquatic resources. But construction of these structures and armoring of shoreline habitat can harm fish and wildlife. The shoreline and shallow water vegetation that many fish and waterfowl species use for food and cover can be shaded out by over-water structures, removed to create beach or armored conditions, or eliminated by dredging. Shoreline development has been linked with reduced numbers and size of fish, reductions in water quality from inadequate septic systems, and runoff from maintained lawns. We encourage you to enjoy New York State’s abundant aquatic resources and help to preserve them by maintaining vegetated shoreline habitat and keeping docks and boathouses to the minimum size needed to access the water.

Habitat Fragmentation - Wetland habitats are being fragmented by highways, residential/commercial development, agricultural activities, and pipelines. This fragmentation may leave patches of wetland that are too small to support viable populations of certain species. Interspersion of human development with wetlands may also introduce nuisance plant and animal species, increase predation and nest parasitism, alter wetland hydrology, and contribute to contamination of wetlands with chemicals and nutrients. We encourage land managers to cluster development to leave large undisturbed wetland tracts and route linear projects around wetlands.
Sign advertising marsh property for sale





Stream Alteration - New York is traversed with a rich network of stream and river channels. They provide habitat for fish and wildlife, recreational opportunities for people, and water for agriculture and other uses. Unfortunately, streams and rivers are frequently dredged, channelized, or re-located to accommodate development or to alleviate flooding of structures built within floodplains. Streambank vegetation may be removed, streambanks may be armored, and pollutants may be discharged into streams as a result of stormwater outfalls and runoff from highways, parking lots, agricultural areas, golf courses, and residential areas. These stream-altering activities can contribute to streambank erosion, sedimentation, decreased water quality, habitat loss, and increased flooding. Landowners and developers should consider avoiding development within and along stream courses and in flood-prone areas. Stream modification projects should be performed with assistance from people knowledgeable in the field of natural stream channel design to ensure healthy and stable streams and rivers. Our Partners for Fish & Wildlife program provides advice and assistance for these situations.

River in need of restoration
This stream has now been restored by U.S. Fish & Wildlife

Long Island Permit Issues:

general wetland bridge over wetland

The Long Island Field Office reviews permits under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. Activities to be permitted frequently include the filling of wetlands and open water, the construction of structures such as piers and bulkheads in navigable waters, dredging, and beachfill. The Service provides recommendations on measures to avoid, minimize, rectify, reduce, and/or compensate for fish and wildlife resource impacts of proposed actions. When Federally-listed threatened or endangered species occur within areas of proposed activity, the Long Island Field Office undertakes project reviews under the Endangered Species Act with the Federal action agency.

See our Long Island Federal Projects page.

USFWS National Wetlands Inventory
Buffalo District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Program
New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Program
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Natural Resource Conservation Service's soil maps
U.S. EPA Wetlands

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Last updated: December 15, 2016
All images by FWS unless otherwise noted.