Natural Resources & Development

The Town has adopted regulations to preserve, protect and promote our natural resources 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 our Community Development Information Center at 843-341-4757 for guidance prior to starting a project.


Benefits of Trees

  • Trees clean our air by removing pollutants from the atmosphere, improving air quality.
  • Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
  • Trees provide vital habitat for a wide range of animals.
  • Trees beautify our community.

Tree City USATree City USA Logo

The Town of Hilton Head Island has held the Tree City USA designation since 2000!

Recognition as a Tree City USA provides us with a great opportunity to celebrate the importance of having a healthy and well maintained tree canopy throughout our community. Learning proper care for our trees, their value and benefits will safeguard and enhance the quality of life we all enjoy!

Tree Removal

Before a tree is removed, the owner must submit a Natural Resources Permit Application 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.
  • Flag the tree(s) for easy identification.
  • In addition to Town approval, Property Owners Association or a private Architectural Review Board approval may be necessary for properties inside various communities.

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

  • 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
  • Photos of trees proposed to be removed

Natural Resources Permit Application

Special Requirements for Specimen Trees

Specimen trees are trees that have been identified as an outstanding representative of its species in size and have special requirements.

View the List of Specimen Trees

  • If a specimen tree is not determined to be hazardous trees, it 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.
  • 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).

Tree Pruning

  • 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% of the tree's foliage is considered tree removal and can cause the tree (particularly an older or already stressed tree) to 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.

Contact the Community Development Information Center at 843-341-4757 prior to starting any vegetation removal.


Both freshwater and tidal (salt water) wetlands are a vital part of the Island's ecosystem, which is why there are regulations that address this resource.

  • If a wetland will be impacted by activities, 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.

Natural Resources Permit Application

View the Application Specific Review Procedures - LMO section 16-2-103.L

View our Community Development Application Process Table

Trimming in the Dunes

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.
  • These standards have been designed to protect and preserve these beach and dune systems.

Natural Resources Permit Application


Contact the Community Development Information Center at or 843-341-4757