"Man has disrupted the natural order in the Pine Bush with
roads, developments and suppression of fires," said Stephanie
Gebauer at the December Save the Pine Bush dinner. Ms. Gebauer,
the first director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Research and
Management of the Eastern New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy,
went on to describe how fires benefit the Pine Bush.
Fires used to occur in the Pine Bush every five to ten to fifteen
years. Particularly since the 1940's, fires have not been allowed
to burn. The Pine Bush is one of the many varieties of fire-adapted
ecosystems throughout the U.S. Native Americans used fires to
increase food crops and for other reasons, but after Europeans
settled here, fires started only by accident either by lightening
or actions of people.
The Pine Bush landscape, with scrub oak and sparsely dotted with
pitch pine, is characterized by large, grassy, sandy-soiled open
areas, home of the blue lupine and the Karner Blue. The grassy
areas are very dry , especially in spring and fall but also in
winter. Dry grass ignites easily. Fire helps the pitch pine to
release its seeds. Ash is rich in nutrients and helps plants to
rejuvenate. Pitch pines send out sprouts from their trunks. Scrub
Oak and dwarf chestnut oak sprout abundantly after a fire. Blue
lupines require sunny, open spaces. The decline of the blue lupine
may well be the result of the absence of fire and the decline
of the Karner Blue butterfly many well be the result of the decline
of the blue lupine.
The Buck Moth lays eggs on young oak branches. While fire kills
some shrubs, after a fire regeneration produces lots of young
sprouts for the Buck Moth eggs to live on.
The Pine Bush has changed and continues to change, but, in spite
of development, it is the lack of fires which has been the primary
reason for so much change. "Weedy species " such as
the aspen and black locust have invaded and even become dominant
in some parts of the Pine Bush.
It takes a lot of planning and site preparation for controlled
burns. Weather conditions - humidity, temperature, wind - are
important considerations. Fire breaks, mowed paths two to four
meters wide, are being prepared delineating small test plots of
three to four acres each in the Blueberry Hill area (the site
of the defeated Karner Meadows sub-division) and two five-to-six
acre areas off Rapp Road. In late March or early April twenty-four
acres will be burned. Information on vegetation types, smoke patterns,
flame heights and the areas' response to fire will be observed.
This data will help determine future burns.
It may be necessary, after the burns, to remove and clip trees
mechanically to help the lupines. It would be nice to let naturally-occurring
fires burn but it is unlikely to happen. The effort will be made
to simulate naturally-occurring fires as much as possible.
Each small burn should take about one-half day - a total this
spring of three to four days. The goal is up to 200 acres per
year, so that all of the Pine Bush will be burned every ten to
twelve years. The continuing management of the Pine Bush is going
to be funded out of tipping fees collected from the Albany landfill
temporary expansion. The City of Albany is assisting The Nature
Conservancy in preparing and beginning the controlled burn project
with funds from the money given to the City by Crossgates.