Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Permission and Permitting

Permission and Permitting

Several alternative study sites on a stream should be located.  After identifying one or more sites that will meet the study requirements, identify ownership of the land and obtain permission to conduct the study. 

Contact landowners personally to request permission before initiating the permitting process.  A face–to–face meeting is the most effective approach to clarify possible misunderstandings and address questions posed by all parties.  Provide landowners with a statement of work that clearly outlines the study objectives and time line, and include drawings or photos that illustrate the system. 

If possible, walk the property with the landowner and enlist his or her advice in selecting a site.  This will encourage engagement in the project and help researchers understand concerns of the landowner.  Landowners often provide valuable information regarding the stream and fish behavior on their property. 

Obtaining a permit can be time-consumingWalking the property with landowners can help resolve questions of both parties.

The study time line and obligations of all parties should be defined in advance and clearly articulated.  For example, some landowners require an access fee or reimbursement for the use of utilities or easements.  Such agreements should be thoroughly discussed and documented, and may be part of a separate permit process or agreement. 

Researchers may wish to obtain a revocable license agreement between themselves and the landowner.  Such a document shows that the property owner has authorized researchers to access the property for installation, inspection, data collection, and maintenance.  It can provide important protections for both parties by excluding the landowner from any liability for personnel or equipment and by recording the terms of use for utilities, roads, trails, etc. 

Obtaining permits can be one of the most time–consuming tasks associated with an instream monitoring project.  Permitting requirements vary among jurisdictions, among agencies within a jurisdiction, between national forests, and even between districts within a national forest; they will need to be identified on a case–by–case basis.   

Select several alternative sites if possible, and provide the landowner with an illustrated outline of study plans.

Depending on the location, a permit may be needed from more than one authority.  Often a stream or river serves as a boundary, which means that separate applications will be needed for each jurisdiction.  Permitting agents can include municipalities, port commissions, county or state environmental agencies, and federal or tribal authorities.  If the property lies within a designated sensitive area, such as a scenic, recreational, or wilderness area, an additional permit is often required. 

Additional federal permits are required for studies conducted in streams where endangered fish stocks are present, even if the the study design does not involve capture or handling of endangered fish.  These permits are issued by the NMFS for anadromous fish and by the USFWS for resident fish. 

Funding for a project may require an analysis of potential environmental impacts and identification of viable alternatives.  Depending on the impact, this may require the researcher to obtain a categorical exclusion (CATEX), an environmental assessment, and/or an environmental impact statement. 

Information required for a permit often includes detailed structural drawings of equipment to be deployed on land or in the stream.  Photographs of the proposed study sites may also be required, along with detailed maps showing the watershed, stream, and proximity of the study site to towns, roads, or trails.  Compass points or GPS coordinates of the section or township are also commonly required, as well as location by river mile (rm) or kilometer (rkm). 

Photo of man with raftDefining the precise location of a study, including GPS coordinates, is often required for permitting.

Some agencies employ specialists who can assist with coordination of permit requests, but often there is no particular order in which to acquire them.  Requests that are initiated simultaneously can expedite the process in some local jurisdictions.

In most cases, the permits will be granted if requirements are met; however, regulatory guidelines can substantially alter the monitoring equipment and the project as a whole. 

In an attempt to reduce paperwork, ensure continuity of information, and streamline the permitting process for projects designed to benefit fish habitat, Washington State developed the Joint Aquatic Resource Permits Application (WSDE 2009).  This single permit application can be used for sites involving multiple jurisdictions.