by William Engleman
CLIFTON PARK, NY: At the Wood Road “south” habitat site of the Karner blue butterfly in the Town of Clifton Park in 1978, there were thousands of Karner blues, according to a study done by researchers John Cryan and Robert Dirig, who discovered this site in 1975. In 1989, Dr. Dale Schweitzer estimated that these two sites plus another nearby site located south of Ushers Road which he discovered, contained about 600 Karner blues that year. He thought there would be several times as many in a better year, and said the three sites: Wood Road west (also known as south), Wood Road east (also known as north), and Ushers Road south, contained as many Karner blues as then existed in the entire Albany Pine Bush preserve. In 1987, these lands, all zoned light industrial, had been acquired by DCG Development Company. Between 1988-1991, the Town conducted a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) of the impacts of buildout of this area.
In summer 2012, DCG reported to the Town Planning Board that its own paid monitors had last seen a Karner blue butterfly at this Wood Road west/south site in 2006, when just one butterfly was seen there. However, DCG representatives claim it is premature to say the species has been extirpated from the site. The developer’s “management plan” adopted for the east/north site of Wood Road in 2006 to allegedly manage it for Karner blues and blue lupine has not been implemented by anyone for 6 years. Now, in 2012, DCG, in conjunction with its new plan to make another 16 acres of the landscape along Wood Road – the west/south site – “Shovel Ready,” has proposed to create a mere 1.86 acre-size “management area” across the street for the Karner blue, which is no longer seen there either.
This new “management” proposal will surround two small patches of wild lupine that remain on the west/south site (after decades of being shaded by aspens and other fast growing trees) with 50 foot minimum buffers, and supposedly create habitat “connectivity” between this area and the 0.91 acres set aside in 2006 on the east/north site, which had resulted in a Negative Declaration from the Planning Board for that project. The 2 areas’ boundaries overlap on either side of Wood Road by a miniscule 7 and 1/2 feet.
In August and September of this year, a number of Town residents as well as other Karner blue supporters and members of Save the Pine Bush and Sierra Club attended and spoke at two public hearing sessions held about this shovel ready site. The two hearings totaled 5 hours of testimony and Board comment and discussion, including rebuttal of citizen comments provided by the applicant’s attorney at the first hearing. On September 11, 2012 the Planning Board issued a State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) Negative Declaration, saying there would be no potentially significant adverse impacts to the environment resulting from the plan to carve away and denude the portions of the site outside the tiny 1.86 acre area set aside for the butterfly. On September 25, 2012 the Planning Board unanimously voted to approve the site plan for this project.
In some press accounts which followed, Town officials claimed the Town is requiring a private developer to do things that take place on public land such as the Pine Bush Preserve. This neglects the fact that most of the Pine Bush preserve was originally private land, and many development projects there faced restrictions or conditions as a result of containing habitat for rare and endangered species. A press article also stated that Pine Barrens habitat was being protected and restored by the Clifton Park approvals, when in fact, the remaining knoll at the site which contains a pitch pine community will be destroyed and completely eradicated by the plan submitted by DCG’s consultants and approved by the town. There is no scientific basis for the Town to conclude that a 50’ buffer can or will create favorable conditions to sustain the Karner blue butterfly, which it seems had disappeared from a much larger area by 2007, before much land was cleared and graded. Save the Pine Bush speakers presented testimony supporting a 200-meter buffer as needed to sustain Karner blues. Sierra Club attempted to involve independent experts, who submitted a letter noting that the developer’s habitat management plan doesn’t plant any lupine and pays a trifling sum of $1,000.00 in escrow, when a recommended amount is 1/2 of 1% of the value of all real estate transactions at the site.
DCG legal counsel Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna LLP claim that the Town’s 1991 GEIS Findings requirement for this area that there be a plan to reintroduce the Karner blue to the site, will be achieved by waiting several more years and doing additional monitoring to see if the buttefly turns up again once the “shovel ready” site clearing, vegetation removal, construction, etc., of unknown industrial projects is underway, before being actually reintroduced. It was stated that this will be the first time in NYS that any private party has reintroduced the Karner blue. There was no exploration by the Planning Board of whether the area the Town has deemed sufficient for the “habitat management plan” will suffice, or even permit the possibility that an attempt to reintroduce this federally endangered species where it was once abundant could succeed.
Published in October/November, 2012 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter