ALBANY, NY: Save the Pine Bush filed suit in New York State
Supreme Court over the Albany City Planning Board’s approval
of the Roman Catholic Diocese senior housing project in the
Pine Bush. The Planning Board violated the State Environmental
Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in approving this project on an essential
Karner Blue Butterfly migration corridor. Lewis B. Oliver, Jr.
filed the suit on behalf of Save the Pine Bush.
The population of Karner Blue butterflies has dropped
drastically in the last 20 years, over 98%, said Lynne
Jackson, volunteer for Save the Pine Bush. There are barely
1000 butterflies in the Pine Bush last summer, down from 65,000
in 1980, and millions in the 1940s. The drastic reduction in
butterflies is due to habitat loss.
In its approval, the Planning Board did not take a hard look
at the establishment of a migration corridor between the last
largest site of Karner Blues (located at Crossgates Maul), and
the Blueberry Hill area of the Pine Bush, immediately to the
west of the proposed senior housing site. The senior housing
project, proposed by the Roman Catholic Diocese, is in the middle
of this migration corridor.
The New York State Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Team, appointed
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has stated that connecting
the Crossgates Butterfly corral to the existing Preserve is
critical to the recovery of the Karner Blue not only in the
Pine Bush, but in New York State as a whole and is necessary
to meet state and federal mandates to recover the butterfly.
The Recovery Team has determined that Karner Blue butterfly
populations must be established between the largest remaining
site of Karner Blues in the Pine Bush at Crossgates, and the
Preserve. To be viable, a population of Karner Blues must be
within 500 to 1000 meters of at least two other Karner Blue
populations, which is the distance that 10% to 25% of Karner
Blues can fly over their lifetime and reach another population
of suitable blue lupine habitat. Since the distance between
Crossgates and the Preserve is well over 1000 meters, the only
way Karner Blues will every migrate from Crossgates to the Preserve
is by establishment of “stepping stones” or small colonies of
lupine and butterflies between Crossgates and the Preserve.
Already existing on the Roman Catholic Diocese property are
open meadows with all of the plants needed by the butterflies
to survive, except blue lupine. It is over these open meadows
that the Diocese proposes to build its senior housing project.
The approval of this project violates the State and Federal
Endangered Species Act . The Endangered Species Act prohibits
the “taking” of an endangered species. Destruction of habitat
and migration routes of endangered species are included in acts
which are prohibited as taking or harming endangered species.
Interference with the migratory route or corridor of an endangered
species is a violation of the State and Federal Endangered Species
The approval of this project violates the State Environmental
Quality Review Act in that the Planning Board did not consider
the cumulative impact of development on the achievement of a
minimum size and shape for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. This
30-acre sites represents 12.5% of the land which needs to be
added to the Preserve to achieve a minimum size for the Pine
Bush. The Planning Board stated that the 2000 fire-manageable
acre Preserve will be achieved if the Albany Pine Bush Preserve
Commission’s Implementation Guidelines are followed.
The Planning Board ignored the reality that in its approval
of the senior housing project the Planning Board itself was
violating the Guidelines, which call for full protection (meaning
no development what-so-ever) of this 30-acre site. If other
agencies with authority over projects also ignore the Guidelines,
then the minimum preserve size will never be achieved.
In addition, the Planning Board did not comply with the rules
and regulations of the Pine Bush Site Plan Review District,
in which this proposed development falls.
At a time when other states and communities are desperately
trying to re-establish extinct Karner Blue sites, it seems incredible
that the City of Albany is still approving more destruction
of Karner Blue habitat. Projects to recover Karner Blue butterflies
are underway in Ohio, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Ontario, Canada.
Even the City of Albany is involved in trying to restore Pine
Bush ecosystem from developed sites. This year, the City purchased
the Fox Run Mobile Home Park, and is in the process of buying
out the residents and returning this developed site back to
“St. Francis would turn over in his grave if he knew what Bishop
Hubbard was doing,” said Oliver.
Perhaps most incredible is the speech that Ray Joyce, chairman
of the Planning Board, made when he urged the Board to approve
the project. Mr. Joyce said, “I have been the chair of the Planning
Board for 20 years. During all this time I have been hearing
concerns about possible extinction of the Karner Blue and this
has turned out to be an unfounded fear. These fears have been
perpetrated by people with special interests. Animals and insects
have the capacity to adjust to anything.” To illustrate, Mr.
Joyce then held up a copy of an article from the Times Union
published last summer that stated that 1000 butterflies had
been found in the Pine Bush. He then stated that the survival
of the Karner Blue is because of the City of Albany’s policies
The population of the Karner Blue has declined in excess of
98% in the twenty years Mr. Joyce has been the chair of the
Planning Board. The preservation policies have of the City of
Albany have not saved the Karner Blue. The Karner Blue has not
been yet extinct from the Pine Bush, but it is certainly balancing
on the edge.
The decline of the Karner Blue can be directly related to the
massive developments in the Pine Bush over the past 20 years.
Mr. Joyce is incorrect when he stated that “Animals and insects
adjust to anything.”
Karner Blues cannot “adjust” to adverse conditions such as
developments and destruction of their habitat. Without the proper
ecosystem, Karner Blues die.
Originally, it was thought that a Karner Blue butterfly population
of 1000 individuals would survive. That was until the Karner
Blue butterfly population of greater than 1000 individuals in
Ontario became extirpated, and the New Hampshire, also in excess
of 1000 individuals, became extinct this past summer.
Lastly, Mr. Joyce mentioned that these fears of extinction
of the Karner Blue have been perpetrated by “people with special
interests.” Though Mr. Joyce does not identify these sinister
“people with special interests” who spread these fears, organizations
and groups that are concerned with the welfare of the Karner
Blue include the Federal Government’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Services, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,
the New York State Legislature, The Nature Conservancy, the
Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and Save the Pine Bush.
“Given Jerry Jennings’ sensitivity to the Pine Bush before
he became Mayor, the composition of the Planning Board is disappointing.”
It is our hope that in the future the City of Albany Planning
Board will heed the words of Governor George Pataki: "In the
past, others have argued that environmental protection and economic
growth were mutually exclusive. We have proven them wrong. In
this new century, Americans will turn to New York to see the
truth: environmental protection is the foundation for the quality
of life that makes this a great state to live in , to do business
in and to create jobs. Not only can we pursue these goals simultaneously,
we must." A healthy Pine Bush will mean a healthy capital district.
Printed in the December 2001, January 2002 Newsletter