Handling fire can be dangerous, something the Albany Pine Bush
PreserveCommission knows only too well. In April 1999, a controlled
burn at the pine barren that straddles Albany, Guilderland and
Colonie blazed out of control, scorching 75 acres and shutting
down the New York Thruway for several hours because of smoke.
No homes or private property were in jeopardy and the burns
have continuedbut officials are careful about when and where.
And the conditions this spring haven't been right. "We
did only one spring burn and it was about six acres, much in
part due to the conditions that were too dry first and then
too wet," said Christopher Hawver, the Commission's Executive
Officials prefer humidity between 35 percent and 70 percent
and ground-level wind speeds between 2 and 10 mph.
The controlled burns are essential to maintaining the rare
inland pine barren,which is home to the endangered Karner Blue
butterfly. Over thousands of years, plants in the pine barrens
have evolved to depend on fire. Some need heat to crack a hard
seed coat. Others depend on fire to eliminate the pine needles
from the ground. And animals depend on the native plants, Hawver
Each year, the Commission's goal is to burn 200 acres. But
even with spring,summer and fall burning seasons, the Commission
has never been able to burn more than about 140 acres, Hawver
said. The recent dry winter made burning unsafe in the early
spring. Then the steady rains of April and early May made the
ground too wet later.
A slight breeze is needed to disperse the smoke because the
Preserve is in aheavily built-up area, Hawver said. "The
constraints are very significant." The Commission had set
aside two weeks each in June, July and October for additional
Save the Pine Bush Editors Note: Since the April 1999
fire, the Commissionhas burned only a few acres of Pine Bush,
not the 200 acres per year required by scientific estimates
to keep the Preserve healthy. Save the Pine Bush demonstrated
its concern over the lack of burns by suing the Albany Pine
Bush Commission over its burn plan. Though the Judge dismissed
the case, it is clear that not enough Pine Bush is being burned
for it to survive. Save the Pine Bush will continue to advocate
for more burning.
Printed in the August 2002 Newsletter