Too Little Burning Done

by Dina Cappiello

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve just can’t seem to get a break with the weather. In the last seven years, drought or wet weather has limited managers of the inland pine barrens to burning a total of 288 acres, a fraction of the 200 acres each year they are supposed to set afire since prescribed burning started in 1991. So far, in 2002, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has overseen only one seven-acre fire, despite setting aside 387 acres for burning, which the preserve’s rare plants and shrubs need periodically. In the past, natural causes, such as lightning strikes would start fires in the pine barren about every 10 years, creating gaps where lupine plants can grow and helping seeds of pitch pine and scrub oak to establish. "We have a law…that recognizes that fire is the primary tool to manage the Pine Bush," said Chris Hawver, executive director of the Pine Bush Preserve Commission. "But we are at the mercy of the weather."

The Commission has been sued twice, unsuccessfully, for not meeting its fire quota. Members of Save the Pine Bush, the advocacy group that brought the lawsuits, said this week that legal action isn’t out of the question this year. "They should burn more," said Rezsin Adams, a member. In the meantime, Hawver said that the Commission would hire a fire management specialist and work to make more of the preserve safe enough to be set alight. Currently, 1,850 acres can be managed with fire. The goal is to set aside 2,000 fire-ready acres by 2017, according to the Commission’s current management plan.

Editor’s Note: Save the Pine Bush has suggested that more crews should be in the Pine Bush on any day that it is possible to burn: instead of one crew, how about four crews burning in four different areas at the same time?

Printed in the September 2002 Newsletter