by Lynne Jackson, June/July 1998
Developer Jerry Phibbs has not denied bulldozing a patch of lupine that probably supported a colony of Karner Blue butterflies on his land in Colonie, just days before the butterflies were ready to hatch.
At the Town of Colonie Planning Board meeting on May 30, where the charges were leveled by outraged speakers, Mr. Phibbs made no statements about the bulldozing. His representative at the meeting suggested that there is farming activity going on at the site and that the bulldozing was part of normal farm activity. Various citizens expressed opposition to the plan, including a fire-fighter, EMT personnel, environmentalists, and private citizens. No one spoke in favor of the proposal.
Mr. Phibbs is proposing to build 117 houses on 76 acres of land in the Pine Bush in the Town of Colonie. His proposal packs in as many houses as possible on this property, located on Curry Road. So far, Mr. Phibbs has filled out a one-page “Short Environmental Assessment Form.” For a project of this magnitude located in the Pine Bush, this is without a doubt the skimpiest environmental review members of Save the Pine Bush have seen in years.
If Mr. Phibbs had the land bulldozed, and if he gets away with it, this will again illustrate the ineffectiveness and unfairness of the enforcement of laws to protect endangered species. Every year, scientists count and study living butterflies without harming them. These scientists are required to get a “taking permit”, because some of their activities may harm an individual butterfly or two. Developers, on the other hand, go in and flatten the land with earth-moving machines, destroying countless butterflies in the egg or caterpillar or chrysalis form. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has never required a developer to obtain a taking permit, though developers have killed millions more butterflies than any scientist or collector.
Whether the lupine patch was destroyed deliberately or accidentally, the developer should be held responsible and should be required to pay the fine for destroying the butterflies
The Karner Blue Butterfly is listed on the New York State Endangered Species list. It is illegal to kill Karner Blues, whatever form the butterfly make take (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis or butterfly). It is likely Karner Blues lived on this patch, and the bulldozing would probably have destroyed most of the butterflies on this site.
In his narrative, this is the sum total of what Mr. Phibbs has to say about endangered species and the Pine Bush:
“Based on correspondence with the NYS DEC and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (see Appendix [for copies of letters]), the Karner Blue butterfly is known to occur within a mile of the site.
“As recommended, the site shall be surveyed by a qualified person to determine if the Karner Blue butterfly or its habitat exists on the site, and if so, to determine the appropriate mitigation measures.
“No other endangered or threatened wildlife species, rare plant, animal or natural community occurrences, or other significant habitats were identified.”