Coyotes in the Moonlight

Response to the Commission's
Final Implementation Guidelines

by Lynne Jackson

"It was a cold night in January, snow on the ground, full moon, not a creature moving a muscle," began Jerry Mueller, at the January Lasagna Dinner. He had to get out of the house and decided to take a walk in the Pine Bush, off Sand Creek Road near the Northway. He heard a noise, "Sounds like coyotes," thought Jerry. Heard the noise again. Definitely coyotes. Jerry crossed the power line, crossed the field, and heard them again. He got a little spooked and climbed a tree - it sounded like a lot of them!

Sitting in the tree, Jerry heard footsteps. Finally, a coyote came out into the clearing in the moonlight, so wild, so totally alert. Jerry made a noise like a little mouse, and the coyote looked up. Jerry waited a while (he was getting cold!) for the coyotes to go away. Coyotes do not attack people, but Jerry was concerned that they might be hanging around with feral dogs, who could be a problem. Jerry got down from his tree, walked home and was feeling great.

The Pine Bush is such a wild place, yet totally surrounded by houses, and office parks and roads.

Jerry said that very few of us know the Pine Bush and that we need to get to know it. The state of protecting the Pine Bush, said Jerry, is that "things have gotten bureaucratized."

Jerry brought with him a map that he and John Wolcott drew which shows the original extent of the Pine Bush. John and Jerry used soil surveys to determine how far the Pine Bush used to extend. The map demonstrates how the Pine Bush once extended east nearly to Pearl Street in Albany, and west to downtown Schenectady and nearly encompassing the town of Rotterdam, north to the Albany County Airport and south to the North Bethlehem Town Park. The Pine Bush was once really huge, about 50,000 acres.

We have about 7,000 acres of Pine Bush left, with only 2,200 of those acres in the preserve. The remaining 4,800 acres are in private hands and can be developed.
The Albany Pine Bush Management Commission does not talk about the original extent of the Pine Bush.

Jerry gave a brief history of the Albany Pine Bush Management Commission. Because it became difficult for the City of Albany to deal with Save the Pine Bush and the issue of Pine Bush preservation, the New York State Legislature created the Commission in 1988. Representatives were to include the Mayor of Albany and the Town supervisors of Guilderland, Town of Colonie, Village of Colonie, the Region IV Director of DEC, a representative from the Office of Parks and Recreation and three citizens appointed by the Governor.

The Commission was charged with developing a management plan for the Pine Bush. No input was ever asked from Save the Pine Bush.

Jerry attended the Commission meetings as a member of the Village of Colonie Environmental Board.

The Commission came up with a management plan. Save the Pine Bush was not happy with this plan.

What had happened is that the Commission became the authority on the Pine Bush. Their management plan on the Pine Bush began to legitimize the development of the Pine Bush.

Save the Pine Bush sued the Albany Pine Bush Management Commission over their plan. The Commission really did not like being sued, and approached Save the Pine Bush asking SPB to settle out of court. We agreed to settle out of court if the Commission would create a new management plan.

The draft of this new plan, called the Implementation Guidelines, was presented last spring. Other than public hearings open to all, no member of Save the Pine Bush was asked to help on the preparation of this new plan. This past February 14, the Commission released the final Implementation Guidelines.

At this point, Jerry said that the Commission really should change its name. The Commission focuses so much on working to perpetuate itself, that it should be called the Perpetuate the Pine Bush Management Commission Commission.

Jerry outlined some of Save the Pine Bush's concerns about the Implementation Guidelines.

First and foremost is the ranking system and the designation of some parcels as "Full Protection" and some as "Partial Protection." "Partial Protection" is a euphemism for "places where habitat can be sacrificed for development." The problem remains that if these 'lesser' properties are developed (which becomes all the more likely with the blessing of the Pine Bush Commission), then a few years later some of the top priority areas are developed, the opportunity to attain a viable Preserve will be lost.

The ranking system is flawed because the Commission does not have project approval or disapproval authority and is avoiding any discussion of eminent domain, while the Commission has only the power to recommend additions to the Preserve. Even though the Implementation Guidelines outline a set of priority properties that if added to the Preserve would satisfy the goal of 2000 fire manageable acres of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, there is absolutely nor guarantee hat these priority parcels will actually be protected.

Give this state of affairs, the importance of a particular property to the Preserve depends not only on the criteria described in the Implementation Guidelines, but even more so depends on the fate of the other potential additions to the Preserve.

To state this another way: The Commission may decide that (just for example) their protection of the top-ranking 40 properties would ensure the Preserve's ecological viability, and that parcels ranking 41 through 50 can therefore be developed ("partial protection"). Currently, however, there is no commitment from the State, the municipalities, or any other funding sources, or landowners for that matter, that the essential 40 properties will actually receive protection.

So if, for example, ten of the properties that ranked among the top 40 are developed, the properties that had ranked 41 to 50 suddenly take on new importance. But if in the meantime the Commission failed to take a strong stand on the "lower priority parcels" (41-50) they likely would have already been developed. (This unfortunate situation has already occurred in the case of the Columbia Estates developments and is being repeated with the Touhey proposal, based on the Commission's stance at the 4/3/95 Common Council hearing).

To describe some Pine Bush parcels as less important, and assign them only "partial protection" priority directly jeopardizes the stated goals of creating an ecologically viable Albany Pine Bush Preserve. On the other hand, by carrying the Commission's own rationale to a logical conclusion, it stands to reason that until a viable Preserve has been created there should be a full moratorium on all developed lands.

While a ranking may have some role in the Commission's conservation strategy, if a ranking is to be included in the Implementation Guidelines, it needs to be accompanied by a strong and clear statement that until an ecologically viable Pine Bush Preserve has been attained, each undeveloped property is to be considered a potentially necessary component of the Preserve - regardless of any rank that it may be assigned.

Save the Pine Bush was not allowed to attend the meetings where this final plan was prepared. The Commission worked on this final plan for about eight months after comments were received about the draft plan. The public was given two weeks to comment on this final plan.

The Pine Bush is a beautiful, unique area. The Albany Pine Bush Management Commission's Protection and Project Review Implementation Guidelines does not go far enough to protect this fragile ecosystem.


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