Albany, New York
Surveys: Jan. 12, 2002
Albany Pine Bush Preserve is located in the Capital District, and is one of the world's best remaining inland pine barrens ecosystems. The gently rolling sand plain is home to a unique variety of rare plants and animals, including the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly. Intense efforts by the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission protect about 2,750 acres of this beautiful ecosystem.
Geologically, the Pine Bush is defined by soil. The Pine Bush occurs on coarse sandy soils deposited by post-glacial rivers at the end of the last ice age. Such soils dry out quickly, and do not retain nutrients. Only plants adapted to such dry, infertile conditions can survive. The dominant trees are pitch pine and scrub oaks, which don't reach great size due to scarce nutrients. Joining these trees are specialized communities that include adapted grasses, herbs, shrubs, and other plants.
The final element that shapes Pine Bush ecology is fire. The simple ecology of the Pine Bush slowly modifies conditions enough to encourage new species to become established, and the community composition shifts. For example, pitch pine and oak are displaced by white pine, maple, beech, hemlock, and birch. At frequent intervals, wildfires sweep sections of the dry Pine Bush, killing much of the vegetation, and the environment is reset to its original composition. Pitch pine and oak are adapted to survive and recover from these fires, and remain the forest dominants.
The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission was created in 1988 by the NYS Legislature to protect and manage the unique and endangered natural communities and species of the Albany Pine Bush. The Commission consists of:
In addition, many Capitol Region industries, businesses and community groups have become sponsors of the Commission's work. In cooperation with willing landowners, more acres will be added to complete the Preserve.
Identifying old growth forest conditions in typical Pine Bush ecology requires modifying the standard definitions and criteria. For example, frequent wildfire disruptions kill larger trees at younger ages, and lowers the upper age limit of trees. A pitch pine in a pine barrens over a century old is a rare find, while hardwoods and hemlocks in a usual forest live three to five centuries. Fire-induced changes also prevent a succession of species from achieving a climax condition of stable equilibrium. If one century is an advanced age for pitch pine, age criteria used to designate old growth must lower than the common benchmark of 150 years. Further, the soil's scarce supply of nutrients yields small, stunted, slow-growing trees, instead of the classic old-growth landscape of large diameter trees upholding a high, over-arching canopy.
The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliance — www.championtrees.org — updated 4/14/2003