See What's Underground!

Natural History

Scrub Oak Barren

The Albany Pine Bush is one of only approximately 20 remaining inland pitch pine scrub oak barrens worldwide. Pitch Pine Scrub Oak Barrens Photo By W. Craney

Picture a wide open landscape filled with dense shrubs, scattered pitch pines, openings of prairie grass and wildflowers all rooted in sweeping sand dunes. This is the Albany Pine Bush, also known as an inland pine barrens ecosystem. One of the largest of only about 20 other inland pine barrens worldwide, the Albany Pine Bush is globally rare. It was formed toward the end of the last Ice Age 12,000–15,000 years ago. At this time a large glacial lake stretched from present day Glens Falls, NY to Newburgh, NY. Over time, the water drained leaving behind the sandy deposits of the lake floor. These sandy soils now support the Albany Pine Bush ecosystem. A fraction of the original Albany Pine Bush ecosystem still survives today. This remaining area is divided by interstate highways, shopping malls, and industrial parks, and is threatened by further habitat loss.

One may ask, “What is so important about the Pine Bush? Why should we worry about its survival?”

The Pine Bush is important because of its outstanding biological significance. Characterized by well-drained sandy soils and open areas, it hosts a variety of rare plant and animal species. For example, its open areas present ideal conditions for wild blue lupine, a beautiful wildflower which is critical to the survival of the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly. The scrub oaks of the Pine Bush are also important in the survival of another rare insect called the inland barrens buckmoth. Aside from these two insects, the Pine Bush supports many other species of wildlife including the eastern hognose snake and spadefoot toad. In preserving the Pine Bush, we have the opportunity to protect a rare environment for the unique species it supports as well as for the enjoyment of people for years to come.

In 1988, the New York State Legislature formally recognized the significance of the Pine Bush and created the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to protect and manage the unique and endangered natural communities and species of the Albany Pine Bush for ecological, recreational, and educational benefits. The Commission consists of the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Mayor of the City of Albany, the Town Supervisors of the Towns of Colonie and Guilderland, the Chief Executive Officer of the County of Albany, the State Director of the New York field office of The Nature Conservancy and four members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the New York State Senate. To date, a patchwork of approximately 3,200 acres of the Pine Bush have been protected as the Albany Pine Bush Preserve through the cooperative efforts of the Commission.

Prescribed Fire in the Pine Bush Photo By M. Jones

The Albany Pine Bush is a fire dependent ecosystem requiring reoccurring fires to maintain its unique character Prescribed Fire in the Pine Bush Photo By M. Jones

One of the programs the Commission is dedicated to is fire management. The Albany Pine Bush is a fire dependent ecosystem requiring reoccurring fires to maintain its unique character. By managing the Pine Bush with controlled, or prescribed fires, the natural community is rejuvenated, exotic plant species are driven out, and food and habitat is increased for insects and other animals native to the Pine Bush.

Aside from programs such as fire management, other efforts must be made to ensure the long-term survival of the Pine Bush. This includes the protection of additional Pine Bush lands. The Commission works with willing landowners to protect additional acreage until the Preserve’s goal of 5,380 acres is complete. The acquisition of additional lands will further ensure contiguity, buffers, and protection of historic and significant environmental resources, such as the Karner blue butterfly population.

One of the ways the Commission is working towards this particular goal is through education. The Albany Pine Bush interpretive center, the Discovery Center is a central location for people of all ages to learn about the unique environment and human history of the Albany Pine Bush. Interactive and interpretive exhibits and nature trails are all features of the Discovery Center.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve multi-use trail system is open to the public for a wide variety of recreational uses including hiking, jogging, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, bird watching and more. No motorized recreational uses are permitted in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.