The clearing of property can happen for a variety of reasons - for new home construction, road-building, weed control, pasture land, fence building,cultivation and so on.  Sometimes, one person's clearing activities can have serious negative impacts on their neighbors' properties and residents downstream or downwind are affected as a result of unchecked soil erosion and dust problems.

On July 17, 2000, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors passed a Land Clearing Ordinance that requires a building/use permit and site plan for the clearing of more than an acre of land.  Specifically, the Ordinance defines clearing as:

The act of removal, destruction or physical alteration of vegetation, soil and rocks by mechanical or chemical means, but does not include mowing, or normal cultivation associated with an agricultural operation.

Any activity that includes the clearing of more than one acre of land and which is not exempt by this Ordinance, shall be required to have a Clearing Permit from the County. If the proposed clearing of more than one acre of land is for the purposes of a legal subdivision, then a Clearing Permit may only be granted upon approval of the tentative plat by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Cochise County Land Clearing Ordinance

What is Exempt?

The following activities are exempt from obtaining a permit:

  • Clearing of one acre or less of land for residential and non-residential purposes; 
  • Clearing of land for agricultural purposes, mining and other uses exempted by ARS §11-830; 
  • Clearing for the maintenance of existing roads, private access easements, driveways, and utility easements on ground that was disturbed prior to the effective date of this Ordinance; 
  • Clearing for new public utilities exempted by Article 20 of the Cochise County Zoning Regulations. (This applies to utility companies only)

Required Submittals for a Clearing Permit: 

  • If proposed clearing is in conjunction with construction, structures, or improvements, then information regarding dust and erosion control measures, area to be cleared and acreage
  • should be included with the application for a building/use permit. 
  • No additional fee will be charged for the review and approval of clearing in conjunction with a building/use permit for construction, structures or improvements.
  • If the activity is for clearing only, then a completed Land Clearing Permit Application; a fee of $50; and a Site Plan showing and describing the following additional information is required:
  1. Area of parcel to be cleared
  2. Dust and Erosion control measures
  3. Existing Structures

    The issuance of a Clearing-Only permit will not include approval for any proposed uses other than clearing.  Applicants are responsible for compliance with all applicable Zoning and Floodplain Regulations regarding structures, improvements, expansions, construction, floodplains and other uses. 

Erosion and Dust Control

Often, when a piece of ground is cleared of its vegetation, the first good rainfall (and subsequent storms) can wash away large amounts of valuable soil.  Where does it end up?  Usually, it ends up in local washes and eventually in larger streams. Or, it can end up in a neighbor's backyard.  The increased sedimentation in streams can, in turn, impact riparian habitat, streamflow, and aquifer recharge.

Cochise County has adopted Water-Wise Design: Developers' Guidelines as a resource for landowners seeking guidance on best management practices and erosion control.  This book is available upon request, free of charge.  Anyone planning to clear a large tract of land will find the information in this guidebook very useful.  Some common erosion control methods illustrated in the guide are:

  • Reseeding with native vegetation
  • Leaving vegetative buffers in place
  • Straw bales or silt screens to slow run-off
  • Mulching
  • Detention ponds
  • Water bars

Dust from the uncontrolled clearing of land is not only a nuisance, but can be hazardous to people's health, even fatal.   Heavy winds can often turn the dirt from a cleared tract of land into a blinding dust storm that can travel great distances.  Dust control measures must be addressed.
Dust can  be controlled in different ways including the use of compounds like magnesium chloride; hydroscopic salts; polymer emulsions; ligninsulfonate; non-hazardous asphalt emulsions; ground covers such as wood fibers and mulches. 

Water is often used, but not preferred since it can often worsen dust problems by breaking up soil into even finer particles. 
Note - the State's Native Plant Law requires landowners to file an Intent to Clear Land form prior to clearing native vegetation.  This form is available from the local office of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. 

Landowners will be responsible for controlling erosion and dust that results from clearing activities of more than one acre on their land.  In addition, State statute prohibits any activity that will divert, retard or obstruct the flow of waters in a watercourse if it creates a hazard to life or property - contact the Cochise County Highway and Floodplain Department (520-432-9300) for applicable permits and information regarding washes and floodplains.