The Saugus Conservation Commission

298 Central Street
Saugus, Massachusetts 01906

What is the Conservation Commission?

The Saugus Conservation Commission is a 7-member volunteer board tasked with the protection of natural resources, especially wetlands. It is principally involved in administering the MA Wetlands Protection Act M.G.L. Ch. 131 sec. 40 originally passed in 1972, as well as the Town of Saugus Wetland By-law sec. 508. Under these regulations, the Commission regulates many types of activities in or near wetland areas. Under these laws, no one may "remove, fill, dredge, or alter" any wetland, floodplain, bank, land under a water body, or land within 100 feet of a wetland (referred to as the "buffer zone") without obtaining a permit from the Conservation Commission. Public meetings are generally held on the second and fourth Wed. monthly. (See the community event calendar for exact dates.) Current members of the Commission include:

Judy Riley is the Conservation Commission's clerk.

Why protect Wetlands?

Wetlands are valuable to wildlife as a source of nesting places, protective cover, and food. They are the only home of some species of plants that have become quite rare. Wetlands improve the quality of both surface water and groundwater, acting to filter out pollutants and to separate water bodies from disturbance.

Wetlands inhibit flooding. They absorb water during storms and release it slowly, at a rate streams can better handle. During heavy rains, natural floodplains fill up, giving storm water a place to go other than our basements and roads. Wetlands and bordering high ground in public ownership form some of our largest open spaces, giving us a place for walks, skating, and quiet enjoyment.

For a long time we treated wetlands as dumping grounds. We filled them to "reclaim" them and channelized their streams. We pay the price through diminished water quality, less abundant wildlife, and storm damage during floods. Protection of wetlands and floodplains in their natural state is a cost-effective alternative to the construction of artificial systems like treatment plants and dams, saving public expense. Wetlands and floodplains serve us naturally.


The permitting process usually involves four stages:

  1. Determination of Applicability - this notifies the Commission of proposed activity within a wetland area. At one of its monthly meetings, the Commission then votes as to whether the work is within its jurisdiction and whether the project has the potential to affect wetland functions. There is no fee associated with this stage of the process. Many minor projects, e.g. cutting a tree or installing a fence near a wetland that will not result in damage or alteration will not require any filing at all. You need only to contact the Conservation Commission. If the activity is deemed to have the potential for negative impacts to wetlands then the next stage of permitting may be required:
  2. Notice of Intent - this is a set of detailed plans outlining the nature of the work to be performed. Examples of activities requiring a Notice of Intent would be construction of new homes, buildings, or roads. A public hearing is scheduled and advertised in the Saugus Advertiser to invite public input on the potential wetland impacts of the project. Projects are only denied if a project cannot meet the requirements to mitigate impacts under the state and local wetland regulations. There is an appeal process to the MADEP within 10 days of the Commission's vote. If the Commission votes to approve the work, then the permitting process moves to the next stage.
  3. Order of Conditions - this specifies how the work is to be performed as to protect the wetland areas to the greatest extent practical. This may include erecting a hay bale barrier along the wetland to prevent siltation and erosion from degrading the area or constructing wetland conditions and replanting wetland plant species in other areas of the site to compensate for any losses. These permits are generally valid for three years and may be extended. The Order is recorded at the Essex County Registry of Deeds. When the work is complete per the submitted plans, the last phase of the process begins.
  4. Certificate of Compliance - at the completion of the project, the Conservation Officer, who enforces and inspects wetland projects for the Commission, provides a report on the site at a meeting. If the Commission decides that the work has been done according to the plans submitted and is satisfied that wetlands have not been adversely affected, then it votes to issue a Certificate of Compliance. This is also recorded at the Registry of Deeds and serves to document completion of the project.

The Commission also provides assistance with open space preservation. It administers the town's Land Acquisition Fund and helps to identify properties with high wildlife, wetland, and recreation value. The Commission owns over 100 acres of conservation land and preserves it from development.

What can I do to help maintain the health of wetlands?

You can do many things:

Need more information?

We also have an online guide to help with identifying wetlands, and one discussing what is and isn't allowed in wetlands. Yet more information can be obtained by visiting the MADEP Bureau of Resource Protection Wetlands / Waterways Program and also the Town of Saugus By-Laws. In particular, PDF versions of both M.G.L. Ch. 131, Sec 30 and Saugus General By-Laws are available for direct download, and a Newton book version of the Saugus General By-Laws is likewise available for direct download. There is also a Saugus Tree Committee that addresses tree-related concerns, and a local non-profit environmental group called SAVE that might be able to assist with some local environmental concerns. If you have questions regarding the Commission, please contact us at 231-4129 or via our online form, and remember wetlands are not wastelands, they're wonderlands!