Natural Resource District

Harford County protects many of its sensitive environmental features through the Natural Resources District (NRD) subsection of the Zoning Code (267-62). Harford County was one of the forerunners in establishing local protection of the following sensitive environmental areas:
  • Non-tidal wetlands
  • Steep slopes
  • Streams and their buffers
The NRD was established in 1982 and most recently amended in 2008. In general, NRD helps protect the ecology of an area by minimizing soil disturbance and loss of natural ground cover.

The NRD is a non-disturbance area. Generally, mass cutting, clearing, grading or removal of vegetation is not allowed. Accessory structures, including sheds, play equipment, decks and pools, are not permitted within these areas. Only invasive species may be removed. These species include multi-flora rose and poison ivy. The NRD area must be left in its natural state in order to regenerate new growth. Planting native trees and shrubs is encouraged. This vegetation acts as a buffer to the natural resource by absorbing pollutants and providing wildlife habitat. The NRD is not to be cleared for enlargement of your usable back yard or to plant grass. The only trees permitted to be removed without a permit are those which are dead or diseased and/or in danger of falling on your home. Please, before you cut any trees, notify the Department of Planning and Zoning (410-638-3103) of your intentions.

Non-Tidal Wetlands

The NRD regulations protect non-tidal wetlands. To be considered a wetland, the area must be at least 10,000 square feet and generally meet the following characteristics:
  • Hydrologically connected (be connected to other water bodies)
  • Hydrophytic vegetation (plants suited to wet areas)
  • Soils present are hydric in nature (soils that are typically wet)
When these characteristics for determining wetlands are met, the NRD provides a 75 foot buffer from the edge of the wetlands. The state and federal government have their own regulations regarding wetlands. Please contact the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) or the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) for additional information. 

Steep Slopes

Steep Slopes are defined as those areas that have a slope greater than or equal to 25%. The area must be greater than 40,000 square feet in size (0.91 acres) in order to qualify for protection. Steep slopes are protected from development and are considered a non-disturbance area. Erosion and slope failure are probably the most common and easily recognized of the nonpoint source pollutants.


Certain streams within the county receive a buffer of 150 feet on both sides of its banks. Other streams receive a 75 foot buffer area on both sides of the bank. The buffer size depends on the size of the drainage area to the stream. Streams in the Critical Area receive a minimum 100 foot buffer. For more information on specific stream buffers, please contact the Department of Planning and Zoning at 410-638-3103.

Determining NRD

Determining wetlands may be difficult. It is recommended that a wetland delineation be conducted by a certified professional. However, the first step may be to look for a change in vegetation or pockets of water on your property. If any of these characteristics exist, you may have wetlands on your property. Steep slopes, streams and/or wetlands may indicate NRD on your property. Lots recorded after 1985 will show NRD on the final record plat. Beginning December 2008, NRD areas are not permitted within new privately-owned urban residential lots. For more information contact the Department of Planning and Zoning at 410-638-3103.