Save the Pine Bush

For Immediate Release: December 10, 2002

For Further Information: Contact Lynne Jackson at 434-1954 or 366-7324

ALBANY, NY: Save the Pine Bush volunteers demonstrated today over the destruction of the Pine Bush for the building of Avila House. Avila House is proposed to be built in the rare Pine Bush ecosystem.

The Pine Bush is home to the Karner Blue butterfly, a federally-listed endangered species. The Federal Government has stated that the decline in the population of Karner Blues is related to the destruction of Karner Blue habitat. The Avila House will destroy an important Karner Blue migration route.

Avila House is an upscale senior housing facility being built by the Roman Catholic Diocese.

Bulldozing of the site has already begun. Save the Pine Bush filed suit in New State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division. Save the Pine Bush lost both cases, even though the law clearly is on the side of preserving the ecosystem. “But,” said Lynne Jackson, volunteer with Save the Pine Bush, “What judge is ever going to rule against the Catholic Church, no matter what the law?”

“The population of Karner Blue butterflies has dropped drastically in the last 20 years, over 98%,” said Jackson. “There were barely 1000 butterflies in the Pine Bush last summer, down from 65,000 in 1980, and millions in the 1940s. The drastic reduction in butterflies is due to habitat loss.”

With the construction of Avila House, the Roman Catholic Diocese is contributing to sprawl. Avila House will be a car-dependent community, with not even a side walk to connect it to the Teresian House. The Roman Catholic Diocese has been contributing to sprawl by abandoning its architecturally significant churches in the inner cities, such as St. Joseph’s which is in danger of imminent collapse, and building isolated facilities, such as Avila House, in the Pine Bush.

“We strongly believe that senior citizens should have healthy, safe places to live,” said Jackson, “But, those places should not be in the Pine Bush. Once the Pine Bush is paved, it is gone. There are many other places this facility could have been built. I think it is ironic that one of the reasons the Diocese chose to build Avila House in the Pine Bush was so that seniors could live close to a spouse in the Teresian House. However, there is not a single sidewalk connecting the two, which means that it will not be safe to walk from Avila House to the Teresian House. People will need to use cars to travel between the two, even though seniors sometimes are no longer able to drive. The seniors who live in Avila House will need a car to obtain all of their essential services.”

Establishment of a migration corridor between the last large site of Karner Blues (located at Crossgates Maul), and the Blueberry Hill area of the Pine Bush, immediately to the west of the proposed Avila House site is essential to the survival of the Karner Blue. The Avila House project is in the middle of this migration corridor.

The New York State Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Team, appointed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has stated that connecting the Crossgates Butterfly corral to the existing Preserve is critical to the recovery of the Karner Blue not only in the Pine Bush, but in New York State as a whole and is necessary to meet state and federal mandates to recover the butterfly.

The Recovery Team has determined that Karner Blue butterfly populations must be established between the largest remaining site of Karner Blues in the Pine Bush at Crossgates, and the Preserve. To be viable, a population of Karner Blues must be within 500 to 1000 meters of at least two other Karner Blue populations, which is the distance that 10% to 25% of Karner Blues can fly over their lifetime and reach another population of suitable blue lupine habitat. Since the distance between Crossgates and the Preserve is well over 1000 meters, the only way Karner Blues will every migrate from Crossgates to the Preserve is by establishment of “stepping stones” or small colonies of lupine and butterflies between Crossgates and the Preserve.

Before it was bulldozed, the site had open meadows with all of the plants needed by the butterflies to survive, except blue lupine. All vegetation has since been bulldozed for the senior housing.

The approval of this project violates the State and Federal Endangered Species Act . The Endangered Species Act prohibits the “taking” of an endangered species. Destruction of habitat and migration routes of endangered species are included in acts which are prohibited as taking or harming endangered species. Interference with the migratory route or corridor of an endangered species is a violation of the State and Federal Endangered Species Acts.

The approval of this project violates the State Environmental Quality Review Act in that the Planning Board did not consider the cumulative impact of development on the achievement of a minimum size and shape for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. This 30-acre site represents 12.5% of the land which needs to be added to the Preserve to achieve a minimum size for the Pine Bush.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission’s Implementation Guidelines call for full protection – meaning no development what-so-ever – of this 30-acre site.

At a time when other states and communities are desperately trying to reestablish extinct Karner Blue sites, it seems incredible that the City of Albany is still approving more destruction of Karner Blue habitat and that the Diocese would choose to construct Avila House here. Projects to recover Karner Blue butterflies are underway in Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Ontario, Canada. Even the City of Albany is involved in trying to restore Pine Bush ecosystem from developed sites. This year, the City purchased the Fox Run Mobile Home Park, and is in the process of buying out the residents and returning this developed site back to Pine Bush.

“St. Francis would turn over in his grave if he knew what Bishop Hubbard was doing,” said Jackson.

It is our hope that in the future the City of Albany Planning Board will heed the words of Governor George Pataki: “In the past, others have argued that environmental protection and economic growth were mutually exclusive. We have proven them wrong. In this new century, Americans will turn to New York to see the truth: environmental protection is the foundation for the quality of life that makes this a great state to live in , to do business in and to create jobs. Not only can we pursue these goals simultaneously, we must.” A healthy Pine Bush will mean a healthy Capital District.

The Pine Bush is a globally rare ecosystem and is the largest inland pine barrens of its kind in the United States. There would be no Pine Bush today if it were not for the efforts of Save the Pine Bush, a not-for-profit, all volunteer organization dedicated to Pine Bush preservation. Save the Pine Bush has been filing lawsuits against municipalities for their illegal approvals of developments in the Pine Bush for nearly 25 years.