ALBANY, NY – During the fall and early winter of 2012 wildlife habitat restoration that involves the cutting and removal of large numbers of trees will be ongoing along several roads in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve area. The work is taking place along Old State Road and Kings Road as well as portions of East Lydius Street and Siver Road in the Town of Guilderland and City of Albany, NY.
Christopher Hawver, Executive Director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission said, “The Pine Bush is not naturally characterized by large forests. In order to save this globally-rare ecosystem we have to mimic the naturally-occurring events that created and maintained this unique place over thousands of years. Many plants and wildlife depend on more open, unforested habitats.”
According to Stewardship Director Joel Hecht, “If we leave everything alone and don’t manage protected Pine Bush land it will eventually all become a mature forest. Historically, fire maintained low densities of many types of trees, encouraging native fire-adapted plant species to dominate most of the Pine Bush.”
Wildfires occurred naturally or were set by earlier native peoples and later by colonists in the Pine Bush, but the suppression of fires over many decades has enabled invasive plants to grow more rapidly. Aspen trees, native to this area and black locust trees which are not native, have become overabundant throughout the Preserve due to the absence of frequent fires. Both are clonal species meaning that they spread rapidly through new shoots growing off a continuous root system.
Additionally, their dense closed canopies create a micro climate that is less attractive to important pine barrens wildlife species of concern, including the Federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly and other species like scrub oak, pitch pine, blueberries, and wildflowers. (The Pine Bush is home to more than 45 State-designated Species of Greatest Conservation Need.)
Director Hecht notes, “Once mature aspen and locust trees have taken over an area, they preclude the use of prescribed fires, which are carefully-managed fires set by trained personnel under very controlled conditions and used as a restoration tool. The number of aspen and locust trees must be significantly reduced or eliminated before the habitat can be returned to a true pitch pine/scrub oak pine barrens complete with the rare plants and animals that make this Preserve such a unique place.”
After restoration is complete, aspen trees will continue to be present in the Preserve, although in much smaller numbers. Complete eradication of black locust trees, on the other hand, is a long-term objective of the Commission staff.
For many years the task of removing aspen trees has been accomplished throughout the interior of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve using mechanical techniques including tree “girdling” or peeling off the bark in a strip encircling the tree. Girdling is not appropriate for use near roads or Preserve property boundaries because it results in standing dead trees which will eventually fall which could pose a hazard. In order to remove roadside and boundary aspen and locust, the Commission has contracted with professionals to safely cut and remove these roadside trees. This restores habitat back to pitch pine/scrub oak barrens in a more controlled way along the road edges. Fall and early winter is an ideal time to do this work because birds and other animals are least likely to be harmed by these activities as nesting activities are complete.
Hecht said, “While the changes along the roadsides may at first seem abrupt and unsightly, the long term effect will be a return to the diversity and unique ecology of open pine barrens that once existed. The results will once again bring the beauty of the pine barrens to these parts of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.”