Careful In The Pine Bush

To think that the 6,000-acre Capital Region ecological treasure known as the Pine Bush was once almost 10 times that size, before developers started making their way into what still qualifies as one of the premier examples of an inland pine barrens ecosystem anywhere in the world. Today the Pine Bush and all its wonder are just a bit smaller, at least in the eyes of the builder of a proposed hotel on Washington Avenue Extension.

It’s almost as if there are two separate Pine Bushes, one for ecological protection and one for economic development. The Tharaldson Development Company of North Dakota says that the 3.6 acres where it wants to build a Residence Inn Hotel contain no habitat for the Karner blue and frosted elfin butterflies — two of the 20 rare species of animals and plants that can be found in the Pine Bush.

And why would that be — if, that is, what the company says was actually true? Might all that prior development be forcing these exotic species of butterflies, one endangered and the other threatened, out of the very area where another hotel is now proposed? Might further development, of even 3.6 more acres, pose new threats to these ever-rare butterflies? They may yet relocate to that part of the Pine Bush, remember.

More study is in order, surely.

Daniel Hershberg, an Albany engineer who represents Tharaldson, told the Albany Common Council on Monday night that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that the section of the Pine Bush his company is so interested in has neither of these butterflies living there.

“These are not my findings or findings from my client,’’ says Mr. Hershberg. “These are from the scientists.’’

One scientist, however, disputes what he says. Robyn Nizer, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, says Mr. Hershberg is overstating what a study by her agency found. There is, in fact, a habitat — namely nectar plants — where the Residence Inn Hotel would be built. The issue, then, is whether the Common Council thinks Tharaldson’s plans to protect that habitat would be effective.

Let’s hear more from the experts, then, before another portion of the Pine Bush is bulldozed for a hotel that easily enough could be built somewhere else.

How many more hotels are there going to be along Washington Avenue Extension anyway? Oh, we understand the attraction to developers like Tharaldson. It’s all about close proximity to the University at Albany and its nanotechnology center, where so much of the region’s economic growth is centered. That increasingly crowded corridor can’t afford out-of-control development, though. Making a casualty out of the Pine Bush is out of the question.

How far away, really, is Wolf Road in Colonie? Or the well-developed areas adjacent to Albany International Airport?

The Common Council ought to heed the warning of Lynne Jackson of the group Save the Pine Bush. To wit: “There is only one Pine Bush. You can build a hotel anywhere.”

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.