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What Are the Rules for Cutting Trees on Shorefront Property?

August 07, 2007 - This is a common question! The Shoreland Zoning Act, administered by your town Code Enforcement Officer (CEO), regulates activities within 250 feet of the normal high water line of Great Ponds, including tree cutting. Here are some guidelines that apply to every town in the state of Maine. Keep in mind that each town may individually adopt a more stringent shoreland zoning ordinance.

In the first 100 feet (buffer strip) from the normal high-water line, no clear-cut openings (openings in the forest canopy greater than 250 square feet) are permitted, although 40% of the volume of trees four inches or more in diameter, measured at 4 ˝ feet above ground level, can be removed in any ten year period.

The cutting must be done such that a well-distributed stand of trees and other vegetation remains. This “well-distributed stand of trees and other vegetation” is determined by a point system. The point system assigns values to trees down to 2 inches in diameter and requires a certain total value of trees be maintained in any 25-foot by 25-foot square area within the 100 foot buffer strip.

Vegetation less than 3 feet tall must be maintained within the buffer strip. Pruning of tree branches on the bottom 1/3 of trees is permitted. Beyond the 100 foot buffer (up to 250 feet) vegetative cutting limitations are less restrictive. In this area cleared openings are permitted provided that such clearings do not exceed 25% of the lot area, or 10,000 square feet, whichever is greater.

In total, however, no more than 40 % of the volume of trees can be removed in any 10-year period from the shoreland zone.

Resource Protection Zoning
Any cutting of vegetation is prohibited in areas zoned for Resource Protection for a distance of 75 feet from the normal high water line, except to remove safety hazards. Contact your CEO to find out if your land is zoned for Resource Protection.

Hazard Trees
Any tree that does not meet the above criteria for cutting may be cut if it is deemed a hazard tree by your CEO, and other trees are planted to replace it. A hazard tree is a tree that is dead, diseased, or dying, and has a target (it could damage people or property that cannot be moved out of the way).

Shoreland zoning also applies to rivers, and streams. For more information on clearing vegetation in the Shoreland Zone, visit the DEP’s website or contact your CEO or a Portland Water District Water Resources Specialist. Always notify your CEO before beginning cutting.

Contributed by Brie Begiebing, Portland Water District

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Regions: Sebago, Belgrade, Rangeley, Moosehead, Sanford, Bangor, Katahdin, Embden, Houlton, Lincoln, Jackman, Presque Isle, Allagash, Calais, Mid Coast, Downeast