The Albany Pine Bush Preserve currently consists of 3,200 acres of protected lands, but it is not yet considered viable from an ecological standpoint. The 2010 Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve outlines a detailed protection vision to create a Preserve consisting of 5,380 acres in a particular configuration. One can look at a current map of the Preserve and see that it’s not only surrounded by development and roads, but also significantly fragmented by these features as well. Habitat fragmentation is one of the leading threats that compromise the health of natural areas and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve is no exception. The general objectives of the Commission’s protection vision are to protect significant habitat while reducing fragmentation and creating more contiguous Preserve lands.
The protection vision was developed by evaluating all remaining undeveloped lands within the Commission’s Study Area boundary using four criteria. Each contiguous area of these undeveloped lands were mapped and assigned an arbitrary number and are considered “protection areas.” Each protection area may contain a number of properties, but were combined into one area based on the lack of any fragmenting features such as development or roads. A total of 77 discrete areas were evaluated in the 2010 Management Plan. The value assigned to each criterion was based on its contribution to the viability of the Preserve. Those that contribute more received a higher possible maximum score. Conversely, those that are less critical to the viability of the Preserve (but still important Pine Bush resources) received a lower possible score. By assigning an area scores for each of the criteria and summing their values, the total scores provided the basis for a ranking system for determining priorities for protection. The four criteria used for evaluating properties include:
Does the area support existing or restorable pitch pine-scrub oak communities?
Does the area serve as a viable linkage that potentially increases contiguity and provides dispersal opportunities between existing or potential Preserve lands?
Is the area important in terms of serving as a buffer zone between the Preserve and adjacent developed areas?
Does the site contain any significant cultural or environmental resources, including: Karner blue butterfly, water resources, and historic/archeological resources?
Areas meeting these criteria were then assigned a ranking score based on a more detailed site-specific evaluation.
Based on this information, individual areas have been identified for full protection, partial protection or maintenance as open space. Full protection, as the name implies, is a recommendation that the undeveloped portion of an area be protected in its entirety. This recommendation is made in recognition of the fact that these areas often include multiple property owners and that various means of protection (e.g. purchase, management agreement, conservation easement) may be appropriate. Partial protection indicates that protection of some portion of an area is appropriate. The location and extent of protection necessary must be determined on a site-specific basis. However, in general it should be assumed that partial protection implies protection of at least 50% of an area so designated. Open space indicates that an area should essentially support an existing or proposed use that maintains its open space character. More significant detail about the evaluation of lands recommended for protection as part of the Preserve can be found in the 2010 Management Plan.
The Commission does not have the power of eminent domain, and may acquire lands only from willing property owners. The Commission utilizes a variety of tools to protect additional lands towards its goal of creating a viable Preserve. Most commonly, land is acquired through outright purchase working with Commission members, including New York State, The Nature Conservancy, the three municipalities and Albany County. However, other tools exist including donations, conservation easements, management agreements, purchase/transfer of development rights or set-asides from development projects. New York State has used a creative means for adding lands to the Preserve using land swaps or exchanges, where land is protected for the Preserve, and an area outside the Study Area boundary more appropriate for development is provided. Actions such as these allow for the balance of conservation with economic development.
The protection vision to create a viable Albany Pine Bush Preserve described above serves to guide protection actions that are in cooperation with willing landowners. If a landowner would rather develop the property and isn’t interested in a sale or donation, project review recommendations are made by the Commission, in cooperation with the landowner and lead agency, before and during the project review process. This ensures that a hard look is taken at a proposed project and that mutually agreeable solutions are designed to balance conservation with economic development.
Development proposals for any lands within the Study Area are carefully reviewed by the Commission in cooperation with the Towns of Colonie and Guilderland and City of Albany to ensure that development: 1) will not have a direct adverse impact on the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, 2) will not hinder the ability of the Commission to manage the Preserve with prescribed fires or other means of natural resource management and 3) will not hinder attaining other goals of the Preserve and the Commission as outlined in the 2010 Management Plan.
As an advisory body, the Commission offers recommendations on development projects that are before the municipalities for various approvals or zoning changes. This includes approvals by Planning, Zoning and Town Boards and the City Common Council. The Commission similarly provides comments on projects/plans initiated by entities that may not require municipal review and approval, such as federal, state and county agencies, public utilities, public authorities, planning and funding entities, and educational institutions.
Project review coordination between the Commission and its municipal members has proven to be effective in assuring adequate and coordinated review of applications for development. Development projects are reviewed typically on a monthly basis to assure that the process occurs adequately and promptly. The Commission works cooperatively with municipal and other public agencies to strike a balance between creating a viable Preserve and promoting appropriately located development within the Study Area boundaries. Additional information on project review guidelines can be found in the 2010 Management Plan for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.