Site Protection

New Commercial

What is a Site Protection Plan?

A site protection plan helps protect the natural resources of a project site and adjacent areas and achieve compliance with local laws and codes. Existing trees and vegetation, healthy soils and natural hydrologic systems on a site are all valuable resources to consider protecting before a construction project begins. The site protection plan’s essential elements include: [1]

  • A protection plan for vegetation/trees and healthy soils
  • A tree rescue plan for those trees and plantings identified for removal (a park, community garden, nursery, or some other entity may want them)
  • A site access plan, including a designated staging or ‘lay down’ area designed to minimize damage to the environment
  • Storage areas for salvaged materials and collection areas for recyclable materials, including day-to-day construction waste (e.g., packaging, bottles)
  • Defined sensitive areas where staging, stockpiling, and soil compaction are prohibited
  • Wastewater runoff and erosion control measures
  • Measures to salvage existing clean topsoil on site for reuse
  • Plans to mitigate dust, smoke, and odors.
  • Noise control measures, including schedules for particularly disruptive, high decibel operations
  • Designated wash-down area for construction equipment

Minimizing site disturbance reduces the impact that the construction of a new building has on the site and the regional ecosystem by minimizing the portion of the site that is impacted by development, reducing grading, preventing soil erosion, protecting existing vegetation, and other natural resources.

Figure 1 – Self-contained concrete washout pool (Source: US EPA).

Figure 1 – Self-contained concrete washout pool (Source: US EPA).

How to Implement a Site Protection Plan

Conduct a site analysis that inventories site conditions and natural resources such as existing soils, vegetation, and hydrology early in the design process to provide information about how to minimize negative site impacts and identify any ecosystem impacts. Include a site protection plan in the contract documents.

Follow the Standards for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control when developing plans for controlling erosion during construction.[2] A soil erosion control permit, issued by one of the state’s 15 soil conservation districts is one of the many permits required by New Jersey laws to build and develop in the state.[3] The Standards manual includes design guidance for structural practices, such as grass waterways or detention basins as well as a comprehensive list of plant species used for vegetative stabilization of disturbed soils.[4]Obtain the Standards through any NJ Soil Conservation District.

Projects also need to comply with the NJ DEP Construction Stormwater Phase II program. Construction activities including clearing, grading and excavating that disturb one acre require a Storm Water Discharge Permit, administered through the NJ Soil Conservation Districts in conjunction with the NJ DEP Division of Water Quality.[5]

A site protection plan should define procedures for protecting existing trees and vegetation on site. Take an inventory of existing vegetation to determine the health and species composition. It is also essential to use the following resources to identify and protect any endangered or threatened species that may exist on-site. NJ DEP maintains a List of Endangered Plant Species and Plant Species of Concern. Search the USDA by the state for a list for endangered and threatened plant species. In addition to protecting endangered species, minimizing vegetation removal also reduces the effects of soil erosion from the site because plant roots help stabilize the soil.[6]

The three leading causes of tree damage, decline, and death as a result of construction are soil compaction caused by equipment driving too near the tree, root damage caused by adding or removing soil, and the severing of roots caused by trenching (see Tree Protection and Placement strategy).[7]Include a certified arborist on the project team and consult them early in the process to help protect trees during construction. An arborist can assess existing trees on a project site, outline steps for protection, and advise on best practices. The following is a list of significant considerations for a site protection plan:

  • During construction, the largest single killer of tree roots – and thus of trees – is soil compaction by heavy machinery (compaction by construction equipment also degrades soil structure and reduces infiltration);[8]
  • The roots of most species of large, woody trees grow primarily horizontally;
  • These roots are predominantly located in the top 12″ of soil and do not usually extend to depths greater than 3′ to 7’ yet extend outward to an average diameter of 1 to 2 times the height of that tree.

Tree guards should be erected to protect trees during construction, but since it would be impractical in most cases to establish a complete protection zone for all root systems tree guards should reach at least to the drip line of the tree’s crown. The drip line is the vertical plane going from the perimeter of the tree’s branch system to the ground.[9]


Implementing a site protection plan:

  • Protects the ecological services and natural resources of the site and the region
  • Improves community relations through reduced environmental degradation[10]


Developing, implementing and enforcing a site protection plan can save money through avoiding fines by meeting local codes and regulations and protecting the natural resources of the site.


Site protection plans foster ecological resilience by preserving noninvasive trees, native plants, and pervious surfaces, which provide valuable ecosystem services, that in turn, enhance the ability of the natural system to rebound after a disturbance.

[1] City of NY Department of Design & Construction High-Performance Building Guidelines. (accessed April 16, 2018).

[2] NJ Department of Agriculture. (accessed April 16, 2018).

[3] NJ Soil Conservation Districts. (accessed April 16, 2018).

[4] NJ Department of Agriculture.

[5] NJ DEP Division of Water Quality (accessed April 16, 2018).

[6] Hopper, Leonard J. 2007. Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, NJ. Google Books Link: (accessed April 16, 2018).

[7] C. Dennis, W.R. Jacobi.  Protecting Trees During Construction Projects. Colorado State University Extension  (accessed April 16, 2018).

[8] University of Alabama Cooperative Extension. A Guide to Preventing Soil Compaction During Construction. (accessed April 16, 2018).

[9] City of NY Department of Design & Construction High-Performance Building Guidelines.

[10] Ibid.