Trees in your Stream - Removal may not be such a big problem after all
Whenever trees fall into or across a stream it is usually wise and beneficial to remove this kind of obstruction before it causes damage to stream banks or to infrastructure, clogging bridges or culverts during rainstorms. In fact such log-jams have directly contributed to damage during flood events far too often.
In most cases a landowner having fallen trees in a stream on their property would only need a permit if the stream banks or stream bed will be disturbed during removal. In the photo below a medium-sized hemlock has fallen across a stream. When stream flow returns to safe levels the tree itself could be trimmed and cut away from its stump, then dragged over the bank to the left without needing a permit. However, removing the stump would likely disturb the bank it rests on; so, unless this is part of an approved streambank stabilization project, the stump should be left in place. Hauling equipment can't be operated in flowing water, but incidental stream crossing to gain access that does not cause rutting of the bed or banks or create turbidity is allowed.
If hauling the tree over the bank does not seem feasible, the next best alternative is to first remove the top or crown, then cut the trunk and any large branches into sections small enough to safely pass through downstream bridges or culverts. A rule of thumb our office recommends is a cut length no more than ½ the opening of the next bridge (or diameter of next culvert) downstream.
We have a short pamphlet that describes the dos and don'ts of how to manage downed trees in a stream on your property, available here. If you still have questions regarding this kind of activity on your property, call the permits department of our regional DEC office at 607-652-7741. They will know which projects will need their permit, and why.