Coyotes in the Moonlight

Coyotes in the Moonlight

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

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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