Wetlands buffer zone minimum requirements are currently devolved to local governments in New Hampshire. Each municipality determines its own buffer requirement, and some towns impose no buffer requirement. This policy brief assesses the desirability of continuing to set the buffer zone requirements at the local level versus at the state or federal levels. Although local actors are likely better able to tailor their buffer requirements to the needs of their community, they also often lack the resources necessary to properly assess those needs. Additionally, maintaining a patchwork of regulations requires both increased efforts on the part of local governments to create and maintain the buffer requirements as well as on the developers who must remain knowledgeable about differing requirements in multiple communities.
We have also conducted an analysis of the needs and constraints that will inform the implementation of a statewide buffer requirement. Specifically, we summarize the legal issues surrounding wetlands buffer zones in New Hampshire, buffer policies in other states, and the factors which impact the efficacy of buffer zones. This report uses qualitative and quantitative information to assess the current landscape and policy options available to local, state and federal regulators. Using data from a sampling of New Hampshire towns’ buffer policies, combined with literature on wetland buffer sizes in the state and in other parts of the U.S., we describe and analyze the current situation in the state.