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Aerial Photo
Rensselaer Lake Park
Albany, New York
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PHOTO www.nysgis.state.ny.us

Albany Pine Bush Preserve
Albany, New York

First Survey Team Visit
Saturday, January 12, 2002

Rensselaer Lake Park
Fuller Road, Albany, NY

Team Leader: Fred BregliaAssistant: David Yarrow
Data: Jan. 12, 2002

Rensselaer Lake Park sits at the eastern tip of the Albany Pine Bush. Rensselaer Lake is a reservoir formed by a dam on Patroon Creek, which flows eastward on the north of Albany and into the Hudson River. The Lake was once the water supply for the City of Albany. Such old watersheds are a common site to find ancient trees and old growth forests. Today, however, the Lake is sliced into sections by a railroad bed and I-87, and crowded on the southwest by the NYS Thruway (I-90), and hardly seems a place likely to harbor an ancient forest.
Arborist Fred Breglia
with the largest pitch pine
January 12, 2002

PHOTO CCash 1/12/02

Saturday, January 12, the Eastern New York Old Growth Survey Team searched Albany Pine Bush Preserve for stands of ancient trees. Preliminary scouting in November 2001 by team leader Fred Breglia had identified Pitch Pine, White Pine and Hemlock in the Park that may be over 150 years old. The Park is in western Albany on Fuller Road, easily reached from I-90 east by taking the Fuller Road exit. Rensselaer Lake Park is at the end of the exit ramp, in the extreme lower right of the aerial photo.

The Survey Team met at 9am in Rensselaer Lake Park parking lot on Fuller Road. The day was overcast and chilly, slightly above freezing, with a thin snow cover that was wet, heavy and slippery. The Park is north of the I-90/I-87 intersection, on the Albany Airport flight path, and crossed by the main tracks of Amtrak. Noise from plane, train and auto traffic quickly dispelled any imaginations of a serene day in the forest hunting ancient trees.
Neil Pederson measures girth
of a large White Pine
January 12, 2002

PHOTO CCash 1/12/02

With the Survey Team on January 12 was Neil Pederson of the Tree Ring Laboratory at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York. Mr. Pederson studies tree rings to plot region-wide growth rates in recent centuries. This data allows scientists to evaluate past climate changes, and their effects on species distribution and biodiversity. Such studies can predict changes in trees and forests caused by future climate change induced by global warming. Neil had permission to collect a set of tree ring cores to add to his Hudson Valley research database.

Pitch Pine predominates in the Albany Pine Bush, associated with white pine, eastern hemlock, oaks, and a few other hardwoods. Pitch Pine trees are not long-lived, and pitch pine forests are swept by frequent wildfires that kill other species, especially shade-creating hardwoods. These fires remove thick understory growth, while the pitch pine rapidly recovers and regenerates. Thus, while the ages of the pitch pine is low—rarely over a century—it remains the dominant tree in the pine bush forest.

To begin the day, the Survey Team hiked south of Rensselaer Lake, then under the I-87 overpass and west between the lake and I-90 to reach the western extensions of Rensselaer Lake. One unusually large scarlet oak was found growing on the embankment below I-90. The morning passed quickly as the Survey Team explored the forest around Rensselaer Lake west, measuring height and girth of trees, inventorying species, counting rings on logs and stumps, assessing site features for old growth criteria, and boring cores from trunks for tree ring studies.
Pitch Pine on Rensselaer Lake
January 12, 2002

PHOTO NPederson 1/12/02

While there were ample signs of human disturbances in this forest, old growth trees were discovered in four distinct communities around the lake. Hemlock, white pine, pitch pine, mixed oaks and hardwoods identified the character of each forest type. Altogether, over 25 acres were surveyed that likely fulfill the minimum age criteria of standard old growth definitions. For pitch pine, this is about 100 years old, and 150 years for the other species.
Taking Tree Ring Cores
Albany Pine Bush Preserve
January 12, 2002

PHOTO CCash 1/12/02

Neil Pederson collected tree core samples from sixteen pitch pines, mostly from older-looking trees on the north side of the north branch. Preliminary ring counts as they were extracted indicated trees in the 120 to 150 year age range—not as old as hoped, but ancient by pitch pine standards. More careful study and calibration in the lab is needed to determine the precise age of each tree.

One of oldest pitch pine trees cored was at west end of south branch of creek. This tree had definitely been turpentined, and was one of three large trees on the point between two wings of lake. Two were rotten, probably a consequence of turpentine tapping, but the third provided an excellent core.

for more information
Vintage Pine
Tree in Pine Bush nearly 200 years old

Schenectady Gazette, Jan. 13, 2002

"Turpentining" was the practice of drilling holes in pitch pine and inserting taps to collect sap—similar to tapping sugar maples to make sweet syrup. The resinous pine sap is then boiled to a thick consistency and sold as turpentine solvent. Neil saw evidence that several trees in the Park had been tapped for turpentine.

Neil had extensive experiences with similar fire-dependent pine forests in the southeast U.S., and commented, "Considering where this land is and its adjacent intensive land uses and urbanization, this forest is remarkably healthy. It may have been logged, and the pitch pine was probably turpentined, but it has survived very well. The original pitch pine forest was probably much more open, whereas today the undergrowth is thick, indicating a need to work fire back into the area to remove the accumulation and regenerate the pitch pine-scrub oak community."
Erin Kinal
Education and Outreach
Albany Pine Bush Commission
518-785-1800 x212

Fred Breglia
Director of Horticulture
Landis Arboretum

David Yarrow
NY Champion Tree Project

Searching the Western Pine Bush
Curly Epicormic
Pitch Pine

Albany Pine Bush
January 12, 2002

PHOTO NPederson 1/12/02

After lunch, and lengthy debate around a map, the Survey Team drove to a section of western Pine Bush in the Town of Guilderland that includes the west branch of the Hunger Kill. During the drive, we saw ample evidence how much of the Pine Bush has already been gobbled up by residential developments, roads, highways, commercial strips, and other human disturbances, leaving the ecosystem fragmented into isolated communities.

The Survey Team explored the upper reaches of the Hunger Kill ravine, but found little evidence of ancient trees. Numerous stumps in the flatlands, and even in the ravine, indicated the largest trees had been removed a few decades ago. A few large and older trees were surviving on steeper slopes of the Hunger Kill ravine, and some of the feeder ravines. A few white pine, pitch pine and hemlocks exceeded ten feet in circumference. But no hardwoods approached such dimensions.

As early winter darkness descended, three remaining team members dashed to the east branch of the Hunger Kill, but arrived too late for useful survey. Later in the week, Fred Breglia revisited this area and saw little evidence of large trees suggesting any old growth forests exists there.

The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliancewww.championtrees.orgupdated 4/14/2003