Save the Pine Bush

Summarized by Grace Nichols

ALBANY: At the May Save the Pine Bush lasgana dinner at the First Presbyterian Church, NY State Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone gave a talk summarizing our recent discoveries of pesticide use in the Pine Bush by both the City of Albany at the Rapp Road Landfill and Pine Bush Police and Fire Station and placing it in the context of his 39 years of work with Rezsin Adams, Lew Oliver and other leaders of the Save the Pine Bush.

“I was ‘just the science guy,’” he said. I was never a leader in this one, but I saw all my friends very excited about the Pine Bush and concerned about the land being chewed up. I took a moment away from thinking about raccoon rabies and lyme disease and I looked and saw it was a rare inland pine barrens with these beautiful butterflies.

In those days there was a very bad incinerator in that area which poured out smoke all over the city. I ran out there as black smoke poured out, making black snow. My samples showed what was coming from the incinerator, and we fought it.

Now the landfill creates a similar toxic threat to the Preserve, by taking Preserve land piece by piece. “The Landfill should never have been there in the first place. Let the Preserve be a Preserve!” “They say they will put some sand on top of the mountain of garbage and it will be restored. That will not be the kind of place where Pine Bush plants thrive.”

“I told Grace of Save the Pine Bush that where there are dumps, there are rodenticides.” I have looked at landfills all over the state and knew this to be the case. It matters because “we care about owls and foxes.”

“Meanwhile, the DEC does not do its job very well and lately, it seems it’s been doing it worse than usual. They spend 62% of their income in administrative expenses – the DEC is top heavy.” They have refused to release data on pesticides or species counts – I’m not surprised.

“So we found out through FOIL requests that the city was using a rodenticide that has been found to bioaccumulate when an animal such as an owl eats contaminated rats and mice. It disables the clotting mechanism in the animal, so that even if an owl gets just bit by a mouse, instead of forming a scab it will experience exsanguination and die.”

Now, I remember when Save the Pine Bush fought and won court cases the resulted in the establishment of the Pine Bush Commission and I went there just the other day and saw beautiful displays and lots of interactive computers. “But why wasn’t there a sign by the statute of the Karner Blue Butterfly informing us that their populations are in serious decline? They are almost wiped out at the breeding sites by the Crossgates Mall and the government is shipping in pupa to boost their populations.”

“After 40 years of action on the Pine Bush, we thought the Karner Blue would be doing better by now; that was the hope at that time. They have lived here for thousands of years and the Albany Pine Bush Commission is entrusted to make sure they are still here.” t

We are aware that the Albany Pine Bush Commission is using three herbicides in the Pine Bush Preserve, in order to eliminate invasive species like the Black Locust tree. But it seems to me that “high school students and college students could be cutting out the roots of these trees during the summer as green jobs with stimulus money – but instead they use herbicides.”

“They [the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission] are spreading the pesticides themselves which is the reason they’ve been so quiet about doing pesticide education programs.” To prove there is a problem with insecticides, they told me I must find buckmoths or elfins found dead and diagnosed with pesticide poisoning; while this is possible, it is very rare to diagnose dead insects this way. “They use a lot of excuses for why we can’t get the data on insect populations; I think they don’t want anybody to know how poorly these species are doing after this much management.”

“The Commission and DEC are using herbicides themselves, and that is why they don’t want to take care of pesticides being used at Crossgates and other businesses. We need the Commission to be lively and aggressive defenders of the habitat.”

Ward Stone said he has a long history of fighting pesticides but is currently funded for only a handful of analyses a year which isn’t enough to explore what is happening in the Pine Bush. But the dump needs to be shut down and the DEC should not okay it.

With John Wolcott, Ward has been documenting the pollution from the dump, and the lies and deceptions about the pesticides and pollutants coming from the dump that are impacting the ecology of Lake Rensselear.

“The landfill must be stopped; it’s still full of toxics and releasing gases that are contributing to global warming.”

In addressing the solid waste problems that lead to this landfill, Ward cited numerous possible solutions including the careful, new style incineration used in Europe. I once was opposed to all incineration but sometimes it can be done well if necessary. However, he said, here in New York State we’ve been unwilling to do the serious recycling and source reduction that must precede and accompany any solid waste plan; Europe is far ahead of us. And if New York State is not willing to fund the right kind of incineration, it will be a bad step to use incineration at all.

“The Landfill will be a problem for a long time to come. Longer than anyone here will still be here (he said, looking a small child in the audience) – that’s how long this pollution will be with us.”

Ward shared some alarming details in the effects of global climate change, such as the disappearance of the tundra and the likelihood of a land bridge from Russia to the Pacific Islands. He notes that all these new diseases including the white nose syndrome in bats are arising, while the remains of woolly mammoths are rising in the thawing soil of northern Russia. All these are signs of massive changes to come.

In the face of all those changes, “the right thing to do is to save our own area and to keep a preserve a preserve, except to maintain trails so that the public and our school groups can enjoy it.”

“We need to intensify our efforts to close the dump. Because the City withheld information about what was going on with a bunch of toxic substances is a good reason to shut it down.”

“We need also to continue to study the effect of contaminants on other urban space such as the urban lake in the Tivoli Preserve (in Arbor Hill) and Buckingham Lake, places where poor folks like to fish.” Contamination inevitably gets into the mouths of our children, weather they are gardening and putting their hands in their mouths or fishing.

When Ward Stone has pursued testing for heavy metals on his own time and with his own money, he broke a scandal of the contamination of children’s toys with lead. His boss said “Don’t ever do that again, You are a wildlife pathologist and that’s not part of it.” So he said “I’m done with lead, I’m moving on with mercury.” He has been fundraising in Raven-Coeymans to test wildlife for traces of mercury from the cement plant there.

Noting the work of Rachel Carson, who was written off by the academics of her time as a “little old lady in tennis sneakers without a PhD.,” Ward spoke of being inspired by her example. He served on the board of the Rachel Carson Council which has declared May 27 (today) to be “Rachel Carson Day” – a day for municipalities to adopt resolutions to reduce pesticide use.

Even today, “ It is great to be involved with environmental warriors (like Save the Pine Bush); it keeps you young.”

Published in the June/July 2009 Newsletter