I recently drove past the SEFCU building off of Route 155,
and immediately thought the Pine Bush was under attack by developers
once again. Ostensibly, the felled trees and bare sand, which
have so often preceded the disappearance of precious pine barrens
land, seemed like one more residential or business invasion
of the environment. But after speaking with Joel Hecht, Stewardship
Director for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, I learned
that in this case, the clear-cutting is actually a good thing.
The surrounding area is undergoing habitat restoration and
invasive species removal by the Commission.
There are some invasive plants in the area that often have
a negative impact on the native species. One such plant, the
black locust tree, is the focus of this project by the Albany
Pine Bush Preserve Commission. The locusts, a nonnative tree
to the northeast, have been spreading aggressively in the pine
barrens, out-competing many important species in the area.
Many other plants in the locusts’ paths are killed off
by being shaded out or not being able to withstand the changing
Some areas of the Pine Bush have become virtual forests of
locusts, at the expense of other native plants. The Commission
is trying to reverse this trend by bringing back the species
that have been out-competed. One species they are concentrating
on is the wild blue lupine, a plant vital to survival of
the Karner Blue Butterfly in its larval stage. The Commission
to remove the locusts, allow the native pine barrens plants
like the lupine to grow back, thus creating good quality
habitat for the butterfly.
To do this, the area must be removed of all plants and roots
and stripped down to pure sand. A contractor is hired to
bring in heavy equipment to take down all the trees and
out the roots with a rake. This sets the stage for the
Commission to plant back the native plants. If all goes according
plan, the Karner Blue will populate the area in about five
Similar projects have been done in other locations, such
as the area on Apollo Drive off Route 155, where a parking
was removed and replanted,* and now lupine plants and
butterflies populate the area. There are still four to five
acres of locusts that the Committee wishes to replant
next two decades.
Thus, with this new knowledge, I will not cringe the
next time I drive past the bare sand and construction
short-term, these sites are not going to be very attractive,
but I now know that the long-term objective is a much
more aesthetically pleasing, and much more hospitable
for native plants and for the butterflies.
* Save the Pine Bush sued the Town of Guilderland over
its approval of a development for this area. Though
ultimately SPB lost in court, because of the long
delay caused by
lawsuit, the developer did not build, and The Nature
Conservancy was able to purchase the land for preservation.