Taking Lyme Fight to the Field

by William Engleman

CLIFTON PARK: Representatives of three area environmental organizations and Town residents called on the Clifton Park Town Board to save the Karner Blue butterfly populations in the Town’s northeast corner, during the Town Board’s first regular meeting of the year, held on Monday evening January 3, 2005.

Eight speakers, including representatives from Save the Pine Bush, Audubon Society of the Capital Region and the Hudson-Mohawk Group of the Sierra Club called on the Board to reverse the trend towards local extinction of this endangered species in the Town that is being caused by continued degradation and fragmentation of its habitats. These speakers were joined by longtime Town residents in urging the Board to protect the endangered animal and the Town’s ecology.

Save the Pine Bush Secretary and Albany resident Lynne Jackson read a statement repeatedly asking the Town of Clifton Park to specify its policy on extinction of species. She cautioned the Board that “Extinction of species is a serious matter . . . Extinction is forever.” Jackson said the Town last year allowed bulldozing of a site of Karner Blues along Wood Road without requiring an environmental impact statement first. She said the Karner Blue has recently gone extinct from the states of New Hampshire and Ohio and the province of Ontario, Canada, where, she said, “people would like to be in the same position as . . . Clifton Park. They would like to still have their native populations of Karner Blues.” Jackson added, “Now, expensive efforts are underway to reintroduce the Karner Blue in all three places.”

Three other representatives from Save the Pine Bush – John Wolcott, Russell Ziemba and Lucy Clark followed Jackson at the podium. Wolcott advised the Board members not to cater to the town’s business interests, calling Clifton Park “one of the most overdeveloped towns in Saratoga County”, which he in turn identified as being “one of the most overdeveloped counties in the State.” “Nature doesn’t know anything about political boundaries,” he added.

Ziemba noted the importance of protecting the Clifton Park populations of the butterfly, adding that despite 3,000 acres being protected in the Albany Pine Bush, the habitat there is fragmented and the butterflies’ numbers there are dwindling. He said that the largest population of the Karner Blue in NY State is found at the Saratoga County airport, and noted there is genetic variation within the species based on locality. He added that the Clifton Park Karner Blues, due to their genetic uniqueness “could be of genetic importance” to the survival and recovery of the species’ populations in the Albany Pine Bush.

Town resident William Koebbeman of Rexford spoke on behalf of the Hudson-Mohawk Group of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, stated that with all the efforts that Town government has made to encourage more development, including Empire Zones, his group finds the Town’s efforts to protect the endangered butterfly and its habitats to be “rather weak.” He referred to a letter that the group wrote to the Town in October 2003 objecting to the Empire Zone status assigned by the Town and County Boards on a parcel containing known Karner Blue butterfly habitat along Wood Road. The letter also asked the Town to fully enforce the 1991 Findings Statement for the Wood Road Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS), which specified numerous protective measures that must be taken in order to save the endangered species habitats located in the Town’s Light Industrial Zone.

David Gibson, Conservation Chairperson and Board member of the Audubon Society of the Capital Region (a chapter of National Audubon Society) and Ballston Lake resident said he has been speaking and writing to the Town Board and Planning Board on Audubon’s behalf concerning habitats along Wood Road since the early 1990’s. He said he was stunned to discover what Town officials allowed to occur last year along Wood Road, which he frequently travels. He described the area of extensive grading and cutting there, including filling of wetlands and wetlands buffers, and called for the site to be “restored and remediated” as a viable habitat.

Gibson said the Town should “bring all the parties together” to make good on a 1994 agreement that was signed by several parties including the landowner, with enforcement powers of Town government specified therein, pursuant to related Town project approval conditions from the same time period. The agreement was meant to protect the habitats of the Karner Blue and other rare wildlife through stewardship and management, he added, noting also that the Town’s current 3-month moratorium in the Light Industrial zone would be “a great opportunity” to remove the known Karner Blue habitats and others special resource areas — including the NYS Forest Preserve Tract located east of Route 9 along Ushers and English Road — from the Town’s Light Industrial zoning district. Mr. Gibson expressed the view that the treatment of the bulldozed area along Wood Road “conflicts with the Town’s conservation ethic,” and urged that the Town “work with what nature has afforded it in abundance, not against it.”

Leland Lakritz, a 31- year town resident, noted that during the years he’s lived in Town, he has seen many changes in Clifton Park. He advised the Board that “We are not separate from the Earth.” He called on the Board to protect those Karner Blue habitats that are left in Town, and to preserve the remaining ecology of the Town.

William Engleman, Town resident and member of Save the Pine Bush, said the Board may soon “preside over the local extinction of this species from one or more of its remaining habitats” in Clifton Park. He urged that protective measures including rezoning be taken for endangered species and their habitats, as well as for the aquifers and aquifer recharge areas, forest lands and wetlands, which he said are all located within the Town’s present Light Industrial zoned areas. Engleman commended the Board on instituting the 3-month moratorium on gas stations and convenience stores and for extending it to include all projects in the Light Industrial zone. He asked that the Board “show a long-term regard for the ecology, natural heritage and biodiversity of this Town.” Engleman served on the Town’s Environmental Conservation Commission 1988-1990, cofounded the Saratoga County Land Conservancy in 1988 and is a founding Steering Committee member of Friends of Clifton Park Open Space.

In June 2004, Save the Pine Bush and Engleman sued the Town’s Planning Board charging that the NY State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) had been violated in the Planning Board’s April 2004 approval of 9 acres of soil disturbance granted to DCG Development Company along Wood Road. Saratoga County Supreme Court refused to grant a temporary restraining order and the bulldozing proceeded. Upon advise of counsel that this might render the case moot, the case was withdrawn prior to a scheduled hearing date in late July, 2004.