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Site Description
Prescribed Fire
Mechanical treatments
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Albany Pine Bush Preserve

Description of the Albany Pine Bush

Located in the heart of the Capital District Region of New York, the Albany Pine Bush represents one of the best remaining examples of an inland pine barrens ecosystem in the world. This gently rolling sand plain is home to an unique diversity of animals and plants, including 20 rare species and two rare natural communities.

The Albany Pine Bush 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 almost 125 miles south to present day Newburgh, NY and the Pine Bush sat at the bottom of this lake.

Over time, the water drained, leaving behind the sandy deposits of the lake floor. These sandy soils now support the Albany Pine Bush ecosystem. Less than 20% of the original Albany Pine Bush ecosystem still survives today. This remaining 3,010 acre area is divided by interstate highways, shopping malls, and industrial parks, and is threatened by further habitat loss.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission was created by the NYS Legislature in 1988 to protect and manage the unique and endangered natural communities and species of the Albany Pine Bush for ecological, recreational and educational benefits. The information for this web page comes primarily from the web site of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission.

Ongoing Management at the Albany Pine Bush

Goals--One main goal of management at the Pine Bush is the restoration of pitch pine scrub oak barrens. Restoration efforts increase the spacing of scrub oak clumps to encourage a greater diversity of grasses and flowering plants and provide habitat for ground-nesting birds.

Removal of aggressive, invasive plant species such as black locust and aspen and improving habitat for the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly are also stewardship priorities. Efforts for maintaining, restoring and creating new habitat for the Karner blue focus on controlling invasive plants and planting lupine and other plants essential to suitable Karner blue habitat.

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Management practices

Management of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve involves numerous techniques and methods. Years of fire suppression have allowed many areas in the Preserve to be dominated by either invasive, non-native plants or native plants in unnatural densities. Consequently, a number of techniques are being used to manage this unique ecosystem, including a complex and intensive fire management program.

Prescribed Fire--Between the 1940s and the 1980s, the Albany Pine Bush was under a strict policy of fire suppression. In the absence of fire, however, the pitch pine canopy begins to close and grassy openings are crowded out due to increased density of the oak understory. Native species such as blue lupine are nudged out by weedy species such as locust and aspen. With an increase in the density of the vegetation, the amount of flammable material also increases, creating hazardous fire conditions. Such conditions may lead to catastrophic wildfires that can threaten lives and property.

In 1988, under a contract with the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, The Nature Conservancy prepared a Fire Management Plan for the Albany Pine Bush. There are many challenges to prescribed burning in the Albany Pine Bush. Smoke management is a major concern; housing developments, nursing homes, a regional airport, and two major highways border the preserve.

Initial prescribed burns took place in the spring of 1991. The first burns were small (1-3 acres) research burns that have provided information useful for predicting fire behavior in the Albany Pine Bush on a larger scale. Since the beginning of the program, we have developed a better understanding of how fire behaves in the varying natural community conditions.

Currently , larger fires that simulate more natural conditions are being conducted so that fire can be reestablished as the primary ecological process which maintains this unique ecosystem.

Click here for additional information on prescribed fire at the Albany Pine Bush.

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Mechanical Treatments--Since 1995 the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has used a machine called a hydro-axe (click here to see a photo) to mow dense scrub-oak thickets, primarily in the more open, barrens areas of the Preserve. Since fire has been suppressed in these areas for 50 to 75 years, mowing is used prior to the first prescribed burn and is an effective method that allows the Commission to continue management in a controlled and ecologically effective manner for years to come.

The hydro-axe is hydraulically operated and uses a blade eight feet long to cut and shred shrubs and smaller trees with stems up to 6 inches in diameter. This method has proved effective at reducing the stature of the scrub oak in areas where prescribed fire would be unmanageable due to the quantity, size and flammability of the vegetation.

During restoration of these sites, the areas are mowed and then burned during the summer. Sites will then be managed with fire and some mechanical treatments on a rotating schedule that will not allow the vegetation to become as large or unwieldy and that, more importantly, will meet objectives to improve the overall health of the Pine Bush.

Mechanical management will probably be used on a limited basis for a number of years until a complete rotation of burning has occurred on these lands in the preserve. As additional lands are added to the preserve, these also may require mechanical treatment.

Click here for additional information on the mowing operations at the Albany Pine Bush.

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Status of treatments at the Albany Pine Bush

During the 2004 growing season, 129 acres of pitch pine scrub oak barrens were mowed with the hydro-axe and burned about one month after mowing. Ecological effects of this treatment include: reducing litter and duff depths, exposing mineral soils, top-killing scrub oak and fire sensitive species, 10-30% mortality of scrub oak, nearly eliminating aspen, and significantly increasing grass and sedge cover. Further, prescribed fires were followed with lupine interseeding to improve Karner blue habitat.

These effects bring the Pine Bush closer to its goals of restoring pitch pine scrub oak barrens, removing of aggressive, invasive plant species, and improving habitat for the Karner blue butterfly. Mowing and burning treatments in 2005 are on-going and managers hope to treat another 130 acres this year.

Publications about the Albany Pine Bush

"Vegetation and Soil Studies within the Albany Pine Bush Preserve: A Landscape Level Approach." Gebauer, Patterson, Droege, and Santos, 1996. (13.7MB pdf)

"Conservation Goals and Objectives for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve." Gebauer, 1993. Published by the Eastern New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. 23 pages. (5.3MB pdf)

The following titles are available upon request from the UMass Fire Ecology Lab or the publishing entity. Contact us.

"Inventory of the Rare Plants, Animals, and Ecological Communities of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Report to the Albany Pine Bush Commission, Revised September 1991." Schneider, Reschke, and Young, 1991. Published by the New York Natural Heritage Program, Department of Environmental Conservation. 67 pages, plus map appendices.

"Guidelines for the Preliminary Research Program, Albany Pine Bush Preserve." Givnish, 1989. 114 pages.

"Pine Bush: Albany's Last Frontier." Rittner, ed. 1976. Published by the Pine Bush Historic Preservation Project. 263-page soft-cover book.

Additional publications can be found at the Research Database web page at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission's website.

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Contacts for more information about work at the Albany Pine Bush

Neil Gifford
Conservation Director
Albany Pine Bush
Preserve Commission
108 Wade Road
Latham, NY 12110

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