Preserve cuts trees: One man's 'open habitat' is another man's 'war zone'

GUILDERLAND — Residents of East Old State Road, and neighboring roads, like Lydius Street and Siver Road, are upset that trees were taken down by the Pine Bush Preserve, saying the land looks like a disaster area.

“It looks like a tornado went through here,” said Steve Feherari this week. He also likened the look to a “war zone.”

“I will certainly admit it is not attractive,” said Christopher Hawver, director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, but, he said, there is a reason for the destruction, which took place between October and December of 2012.

The trees, along the roadsides — aspen trees and black locust trees — had become overabundant, and were preventing native species, such as scrub oak, pitch pine, and wild blue lupine, from growing. They also created dense canopies, which disallowed the controlled burns typically used for restoration, because fire would not burn in the damp climate.

Hawver said pine pitch and oak trees would not be cut down, but, occasionally, some cherry and red maple trees would be removed.

“One of the things most people think is that forests are something our wild animals depend on,” said Hawver. “There are animals that depend on open habitats, and they’re declining.”

One species dependent on open space and wild blue lupine is the Karner blue butterfly, which has been on the federal list of endangered species for decades, but has recently been rising in population in the preserve, due to a captive breeding program. Restoration of a native pine barrens habitat is essential to its long-term presence.

“Obviously, the wild, natural look is fine, and that’s probably what they subscribe to,” said Feherari. “We are all for the Pine Bush and protecting those lands, but why would you have someone come in and make it 10 times worse than it used to look?”

Hawver said the Pine Bush has been removing aspen and black locust trees for years, as part of its restoration project, but it is normally done on the interior, so isn’t as noticeable to residents. Trees farther inside the preserve are removed using a girdling technique, which results in standing dead trees, that will eventually rot and fall down.

That technique is not appropriate for trees along the side of the road, said Hawver, because there is no telling when the trees could fall, and it could be dangerous. The commission hired contractors to remove the trees on the sides of the road by cutting them down.

Feherari, however, still sees the area as a safety concern.

“There are jagged trunks, trees lying there that could slide down, and branches sticking straight up,” he said. “That’s a hazard of going into the woods, but not a hazard they should have left there.”

Hawver said the trunks and others parts of the downed trees were left there for a specific restorative purpose.

“We leave them there because, if you remove the biomass, you’re pulling the nutrients away from the site,” said Hawver. “The trees will eventually deteriorate and leave nutrients in the ground.”

If the trees had been leveled in an area that was promoted for public recreational use, along a trail, their remains would have been removed, but only from the trail itself, not the areas surrounding it, he said.

Feherari said he spoke to someone from the Pine Bush Preserve Commission and suggested having a flier sent to area residents describing the reasons for the tree removal, and organizing a neighborhood volunteer clean-up crew.

Hawver, however, reiterated that the commission did not want the area cleaned up.

“Habitat restoration, particularly when it is first done, is not attractive,” said Hawver. “It will green up; in the early spring, nothing is green, so it’s unsightly.”

“I don’t think it’s going to look any better soon,” said Feherari. “It’ll take at least a couple of years; can we stop paying our taxes until it looks better?”

He said he has to drive by the area at least once or twice a day, and other residents walk and jog by it all the time.

Feherari also wondered if the Pine Bush Preserve Commission or the contractors were making a profit by cutting the trees and selling them to a paper company, but Hawver said any trees removed from the site were used for firewood or sold as wood chips to local sewer-treatment plants.

“If some sort of money is made from selling wood, it’s not a profit to us,” said Hawver. “It is used to offset the cost of the contractors.”

“Native plants and shrubs will start to become more dominant over time,” Hawver concluded. “It will be pretty again, but it isn’t right now.”

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