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Planning, Development & Building ConstructionNatural Resources

The Town of Hilton Head Island has adopted regulations that pertain to the values and benefits of natural resource protection on the island. The regulations apply to trees, vegetation, wetlands, dunes and beaches. Different regulations apply depending on the proposed activity and location. It is always best to contact the Community Development Department prior to starting a project.

Tree Removal

Before a tree is removed, the owner must submit an applicationpdf icon to the Town. The property owner or applicant must include information describing the tree species, size (diameter), location, a reason for removal and any proposed mitigation. Also, please flag the tree for easy identification. In addition to Town approval, Property Owners Association or a private Architectural Review Board approval might be necessary for properties inside various communities.

Specimen trees are trees that have been identified as an outstanding representative of its species in size and have special requirements. A list of specimen trees can be found in LMOexternal link icon Section 16-6-104.F.

If they are not determined to be hazardous trees, they may not be removed without a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Any development activity in close proximity of the tree must be reviewed by the Town prior to the activity. See the Variance process for more information.

The requirements vary depending on the use of the property (commercial or residential) as well as location of the tree (along the water, within a street buffer, etc). So, it is always best to contact the Community Development Department prior to starting any work.

Natural Resource Request Form pdf icon

Tree Tally Formpdf icon


Heavy pruning (removal of 20-30% of the tree's foliage) is restricted to once every three years to preserve the health of the tree. Removal of more than 30% is considered tree removal and can cause the tree (particularly an older or already stressed tree) to reduce or cease food production and begin to die back. Seasonal pruning (removal of less than 20% of the tree's foliage) is permitted yearly.

Topping (removal of any part of the main trunk) is prohibited on healthy trees over 6 inches in diameter, since it creates a hazardous tree. Pruning cuts must be made in accordance with International Society of Arboriculture standards. Painting of wounds with asphaltic tree paint is prohibited.

Removal of Other Vegetation

The tree ordinance encourages the protection of understory native vegetation as well as trees. Underbrushing (bush hogging) on undeveloped lots can be done only with written permission from the Town. Care must be taken to stay out of all required buffers and wetland areas. Even for single family homes, tidal wetland buffer standards require that native vegetation be left intact. On commercial properties, thinning a buffer may be allowed with Town approval. Additional standards apply to areas where some pruning for view may be allowed, but removal of vegetation is prohibited. It is best to call the Town PRIOR to engaging in any vegetation removal.


Both freshwater and tidal (salt water) wetlands are integral to the Island's ecosystem, which is why there are regulations that address this resource. If a wetland will be impacted by activities, please first apply for a natural resources permit from the Town. This includes activities such as removal of vegetation for views or other reasons, alteration of wetlands or trimming. Depending on the plans, it may also require obtaining other state or federal permits.

Dunes and Beaches

Any hill or ridge of sand may be considered a dune. Dunes promote protection and stabilization of existing beaches. If planning a crossover to get to the beach (or any other type of development) or removal or trimming vegetation in this area, a natural resources permit must be obtained to ensure that the plans comply with the Town's requirements. Depending on the plans, other state permits might need to also be obtained.

How to apply for a Natural Resources Permit

When first deciding to make changes, call the Community Development Department at 843-341-4757 for more information on the applicable regulations.

Online: Go to our Building & Development Citizen Access Portal and follow the prompts; OR

Hard Copy: Complete and submit the Natural Resource Request Applicationpdf icon.

Fees: There are no fees for this permit application.

Depending on the extent of the project, the following items may be required:

  • Application form;
  • Tree Survey;
  • Narrative of proposed plans, including proposed tree protection and mitigation (replanting);
  • Site development plan showing utility lines, grading, and building elevations in relation to existing trees (identify trees to be removed with an X;
  • Replacement tree planting schedule; and
  • Photos of trees proposed to be removed.

Please allow 3 business days for the Town to review your request. Town staff will contact you with either an approval or request for additional information.

For questions regarding this procedure, please contact the Community Development Information Center email icon at 843-341-4757.