The Albany Pine Bush is one of the best remaining inland pitch-pine scrub oak barrens in the world. It is a truly unique place right here in the Capital District.

The Albany Pine Bush is one of the best remaining inland pitch-pine scrub oak barrens in the world. It is a truly unique place right here in the Capital District.

Have you ever heard of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve? Better yet, have you ever visited it? Walked on the trails? Attended an educational program?

— From the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

An open ecosystem is an important part of the traditional Pine Bush. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, as part of its wildlife restoration work, has begun a project this winter thinning forested areas that block light from reaching lower-growing plants and do not support many of the plants and animals native to the Pine Bush.

Have you ever heard of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve? Better yet, have you ever visited it? Walked on the trails? Attended an educational program?

If you have never heard of the Pine Bush, I hope to help you come to know a bit more about it through this column. If you have visited before, I hope to point out something new to you, as I share what’s currently planned for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

The air is cold and the pitch pine trees with their green needles seem to stand out this time of year as many other trees and bushes stand bare. The pitch pine tree is a very important tree here in the Albany Pine Bush.

The Albany Pine Bush is a globally rare ecosystem known as an inland pine barrens. Inland pine barrens are characterized by an open landscape of shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and scattered trees, most of them pitch pine.

The Albany Pine Bush is also home to many animals, including the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly. In the last 25 years, 55 species of greatest conservation need in New York State have also been documented in the preserve.

In more recent years, some regions of the preserve have become much more forested with pitch pine and other trees. These forested areas block light from reaching lower-growing plants and do not support many of the plants and animals native to the Pine Bush. Shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals can all be affected when areas become more forested.

Historically, fire maintained this open ecosystem. Fire suppression has drastically changed the landscape in many parts of the preserve.

Past agricultural activities in the area have also impacted the land, allowing a much more dense forest to grow. This not only changes the look of the landscape but it also affects the plants and animals that were historically found here while increasing the chance of tree-top or “crown” wildfires.

As part of The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission’s wildlife habitat restoration work this winter, the commission has begun a tree-thinning project. In 2013, pitch pine and other trees have been marked with paint. During the winter of 2014 –15, trees will be removed.

The concept that a nature preserve would be removing trees can be difficult to understand. However, by removing about 65 percent of the pitch pine trees in the densely forested Madison Avenue Pinelands region of the preserve, the quantity and quality of the pine barrens in the preserve will increase.

What may seem like destruction will actually allow more sunlight to reach the low-growing plants like wildflowers, shrubs and grasses and improve habitat for wildlife. This all contributes to the health of this globally rare inland pitch pine scrub oak barrens.

Though the dense forest in this area will be gone, pitch pine trees are still a very important component of the pine barrens. You will continue to see them scattered among the shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers as you glance over the dunes.

If you want more information about the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, its Discovery Center, or the pine barrens restoration in the preserve, feel free to visit our website at albanypinebush.org/conservation/tree-thinning, give the commission a call at 456-0655, or stop in to the Discovery Center at 195 New Karner Road in Albany.

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— Photo from the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

All hands on deck: Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission science staff and volunteers conduct bird research in the Pine Bush Preserve, one of many summertime monitoring activities.

Have you ever heard of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve? Better yet, have you ever visited it? Walked on the trails? Attended an educational program?

If you have never heard of the Pine Bush, I hope to help you come to know a bit more about it through this column. If you have visited before, I hope to point out something new to you, as I share what’s currently happening in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

Summer is a busy time here in the Pine Bush Preserve. Seed collection; Karner blue butterfly surveys; bird banding; visiting camp groups; and Pine Bush Pups, our series of programs for preschool aged children, are just a few of the many projects going on.

Of course, there is a lot of action in the animal world, too. Karner blue butterflies are flying, buckmoth caterpillars are on the move, baby birds are hatching, and wildflowers are blooming. 

If you have read this column before or visited the Pine Bush, you know that it is a unique place. This makes it a great location for a variety of different types of scientific research.

This research by preserve staff and university professors helps us assess the health of this rare ecosystem. It also helps us evaluate the effectiveness of management activities in the preserve, letting us know if a certain technique is working or not. The research also gives us the unique opportunity to include the latest findings in our education programs.

Scientific research is being conducted in the preserve to study animals big and small. Camera traps placed in managed and unmanaged parts of the Pine Bush Preserve help us to see what mammals are active in different areas.

In addition to mammals, there are several different research projects that monitor birds. Prairie warblers are a good indicator of the health of the pitch-pine, scrub-oak barrens, as this is the type of habitat that they breed in.

Two birds, the American woodcock and whip-poor-will, which are active in the evening, are also monitored. The whip-poor-will is of particular interest because, in the past, they were very abundant here but have become much less common in the Pine Bush and throughout much of North America.

Fall bird banding is a chance to document what birds are migrating through the area and MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) is a continent-wide coordinated bird banding effort that monitors breeding-season, landbird populations and helps inform conservation and management efforts.

Insects are another important area of research for the conservation staff here. The endangered Karner blue butterfly is monitored and has shown an increase from a few hundred in 1991 to more than 3,000 in 2012.

In addition to the Karner blue, the buckmoth (a New York State species of special concern), and the frosted elfin (which is threatened in New York State) are monitored.

There are also preliminary plans to reintroduce a butterfly, the regal fritillary, and a dragonfly, the banded bog haunter. The bog haunter specializes on the pine-barrens, vernal ponds, another rare habitat in the preserve.

In addition to all the research involving animals, wetlands are regularly visited to collect information about groundwater. Vegetation surveys are conducted to help determine overall ecosystem health and the suitability of restored habitat for some of our most rare animal species.

Another project is investigating how temperature and humidity change in frost pockets. These low valleys between the dunes are cooler at night than the dune ridges, experiencing repeated frosts well into June; their management may be important to buffering certain wildlife from the expected effects of climate change.

Pitch pine is also being monitored to determine if prescribed fire is adequately stimulating new seedlings. 

As you can see, there is a lot of science going in Pine Bush Preserve. I have only brushed the surface in this article. 

All the research that is done comes back to being able to assess the health of this rare ecosystem as part of our effort to create and manage a preserve that is healthy for many kinds of plant and animals for generations to come.

If you are particularly interested in research in the Pine Bush Preserve, please check out our Science Lecture Series. This is a series of free science talks that occur on the third Thursday of every month.

If you want more information about the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, the Discovery Center, or scientific research, feel free to check the website: www.AlbanyPineBush.org, give the commission a call at 456-0655, or stop into the Discovery Center at 195 New Karner Road in Albany.

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