SIGNIFICANT HABITATS AND HABITAT
OF THE NEW YORK BIGHT WATERSHED
List of Species of Special Emphasis
I. SITE NAME: Albany Pine Bush
II. SITE LOCATION: The Albany Pine Bush is located in eastern New York between the cities of Albany and Schenectady, about 215 kilometers (135 miles) north of New York City.
TOWNS: Albany, Colonie, Guilderland
COUNTY: Albany, NY
STATE: New York
USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Albany, NY (42073-67), Voorheesville, NY (42073-68)
USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUADS: Albany, NY-MA-VT (42073-E1)
III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The Albany Pine Bush (Pine Bush) habitat complex boundary encloses the remaining undeveloped sandplain habitat in the Albany Pine Bush, including all parcels of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, the intervening lands that connect these protected parcels, and some of the surrounding areas that abut the Preserve. The habitat complex boundary generally follows the Conrail railroad tracks on the north and the Albany city boundary on the south as far east as Interstate 87; the western boundary is defined by the outer limits of the Preserve and the extent of adjacent pine barrens habitat. This boundary encompasses the regionally rare pine barrens communities and interspersed forest and wetland communities that support rare and highly localized insect species populations as well as rare amphibians, reptiles, and plants.
IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION: In 1988, the New York State legislature created the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. The Commission is made up of representatives of state and local governments and private citizens and manages the Preserve for purposes of its protection, controlled and appropriate recreation, and education. In accordance with the management plan that was completed in 1993, the Commission manages the Pine Bush on dedicated private and public lands and protects additional land as necessary. In 1996, a supplement to the plan was completed that describes priorities for land protection. Lands protected as part of the Preserve are owned by New York State, the towns of Colonie and Guilderland, the city of Albany, and The Nature Conservancy. The Commission is actively engaged in working with willing landowners to protect undeveloped land through acquisition, easements, and other approaches. The New York State Natural Heritage Program, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, recognizes the Albany Pine Bush as a Priority Site for Biodiversity with a rank of B2 (very high biodiversity significance).
V. GENERAL AREA DESCRIPTION: The Albany Pine Bush is a pine barren area located on a rolling sandplain within the Hudson Valley section of the Appalachian Ridge and Valley physiographic province. The bedrock underlaying the area is shale and siltstone of middle Ordivician age (450 million years ago), covered by thick glacio-lacustrine (glacial lake) deltaic deposits from the most recent (Wisconsin) glaciation. As the glacier began to retreat, a large glacial lake (Glacial Lake Albany) formed in the mid and upper Hudson Valley. Along the shoreline of this lake, a large area of lacustrine sands (the Hudson Valley sandplain) extends from the city of Hudson north to Lake George. A large delta formed west of the present city of Albany where meltwater from the Erie-Ontario lowlands and the Mohawk Valley entered the glacial lake. When the lake levels began to recede, the deltaic deposits were exposed to winds to form the gently rolling sand dunes now underlying the Albany Pine Bush. Before European colonization of the area, the Pine Bush covered about 104 square kilometers (40 square miles), at that time the largest pitch pine barrens in North America inland of the Coastal Plain. As a result of development and habitat fragmentation, the present Albany Pine Bush habitat complex has been reduced to approximately 970 hectares (2,400 acres), or about 10% of the original area. The Albany Pine Bush Commission is hoping to protect 1,600 to 2,400 hectares (4,000 to 6,000 acres) of the Pine Bush ecosystem, including pine barrens, ravines, wetlands, and other associated communities. Other areas of inland pine barrens occur within the larger Hudson Valley sandplain including sites nearby to the north, the Saratoga sand belt and the Glens Falls sandplain. Elevations in the Pine Bush range from about 80 to 110 meters (260 to 360 feet) above sea level. The climate is relatively dry; precipitation averages only about 86 centimeters (34 inches) per year.
The sandy, well-drained soils of this area are dominated by vegetation ecologically adapted to dry conditions and periodic fires. Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, the characteristic community of pine barrens, are dominated by pitch pine (Pinus rigida) trees, a tall shrub layer consisting of scrub oak and dwarf chestnut oak (Quercus ilicifolia and Q. prinoides), and a low shrub layer composed of blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium and V. pallidum), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), and sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina). Interspersed are small grasslands dominated by prairie grasses such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), as well as shrubby willows (Salix humilis and S. tristis). Characteristic forbs include bush-clovers (Lespedeza capitata and L. hirta), goat's rue (Tephrosia virginiana), and wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). The pitch pine-scrub oak barrens community makes up 385 hectares (952 acres), or 42% of the mapped communities in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. In areas where fire has been suppressed for a long time, the pine barrens have succeeded into successional southern hardwood forest or successional northern hardwood forest. The southern hardwood forests are dominated by an exotic tree, black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and black cherry (Prunus serotina), with lesser numbers of oaks (Quercus spp.), maples (Acer, spp.) and tree-of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an exotic species. The shrub layer is dominated by black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) and other brambles (Rubus spp.), as well as shrubs characteristic of the pine barrens described above. The northern hardwood forests are dominated by quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), big-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata), and other hardwood species including black cherry, red maple (Acer rubrum), white pine (Pinus strobus), gray birch (Betula populifolia), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), and oaks (Quercus spp.). There are approximately 202 hectares (500 acres) of successional northern and southern hardwood forests within the Pine Bush Preserve. Under a fire management plan, these and other disturbed areas have the potential to be restored back to pitch pine-scrub oak barrens. Overall, there are about 275 hectares (680 acres) now protected that can be restored to pitch pine-scrub oak barrens.
Ravines within the Pine Bush contain mixed forests of pine-northern hardwoods and Appalachian oak-pine. The pine-northern hardwoods forest is dominated by white pine and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) mixed with scattered red maple and other hardwood species, a shrub layer dominated by witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and a herbaceous layer composed of a variety of herbs, mosses, and lichens. The Appalachian oak-pine forest has a tree canopy of one or more oak species, primarily black oak, white oak, and chestnut oak (Quercus velutina, Q. alba, and Q prinus); these are mixed with pitch pine and some white pine, lesser numbers of other hardwood species, and a shrub layer dominated by heath shrubs, typically blueberries and black huckleberry.
Wetlands occur in poorly drained depressions in the Pine Bush and are mostly clustered along the northern boundary of the Preserve and at the bottoms of ravines. Red maple-hardwood swamps found in the Pine Bush are dominated by red maple with co-dominants that include American elm (Ulmus americana), red oak (Quercus rubra), and cottonwood (Populus deltoides), and a dense shrub layer characterized by speckled alder (Alnus incana), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), dogwoods (Cornus spp.), arrowwood (Viburnum recognitum), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and wild grape (Vitis riparia). The red maple swamps grade into surrounding upland successional forests. A total of about 14 hectares (35 acres) of pine barrens vernal ponds have been mapped in the Pine Bush Preserve. These seasonally fluctuating, groundwater-fed ponds are characterized by a diversity of grasses, sedges, herbs, and low shrubs, including three-way sedge (Dulichium arundinaceum), woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), black chokeberry, black huckleberry, mountain holly (Nemopanthus mucronatus), and peat moss (Sphagnum fallax). Small areas of shallow emergent marsh dominated by cattail (Typha latifolia) and other grasses, sedges, and herbs occur in the bottoms of the ravines. There are numerous sand roads and trails scattered throughout the Pine Bush, plus a few cleared areas and one large landfill. The vegetation in these areas includes many exotic weed species that may invade adjacent native communities.
VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: The Albany Pine Bush is regionally significant as the largest remaining inland pine barrens in the watershed. There are 51 species of special emphasis in the Albany Pine Bush, incorporating 15 species of insects, and including the following federally and state-listed species. (Living resources and their habitats are dynamic; therefore, the ecological significance and species information presented here may not be complete or up-to-date. State and federal environmental agencies [see Appendix III for office contacts] should be consulted for additional information.)
Federally listed endangered
Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)
Federal species of concern(1)
Albarufan dagger moth (Acronicta albarufa)
bog bluegrass (Poa paludigena)
1Species of special concern listed here include former Category 2 candidates.
State-listed special concern animals
inland barrens buckmoth (Hemileuca maia ssp. 3)
Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonium)
blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale)
spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)
wood turtle (Clemmys insculpta)
eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)
State-listed rare plants
red-rooted flatsedge (Cyperus erythrorhizos)
Houghton's umbrella-sedge (Cyperus houghtonii)
Schweinitz's flatsedge (Cyperus schweinitzii)
The Albany Pine Bush contains exemplary occurrences of the globally rare pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and several exemplary occurrences of pine barrens vernal ponds. A rare plant associated with pine barrens vernal ponds is the red-rooted flatsedge. The globally rare and federal species of concern bog bluegrass occurs at the bottom of a ravine in the Pine Bush, the only known site for this species in the New York Bight study area. A recently burned area in the Pine Bush supports an exemplary occurrence of the globally rare orchid, Bayard's malaxis (Malaxis bayardii). Several plant species occur at disturbed sites in the Pine Bush; these include Houghton's umbrella sedge, rusty flatsedge (Cyperus odoratus), and Schweinitz's sedge.
The Albany Pine Bush is nationally recognized for its populations of rare butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). There are hundreds of Lepidoptera species found in the Pine Bush, including over 40 noctuid moths (Noctuidae) considered to be pine barrens specialists. Regionally rare butterflies found here are the dusted skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna), Henry's elfin (Incisalia henrici), frosted elfin (Incisalia irus), Karner blue, and Edward's hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii); rare moths include the Albarufan dagger moth, broad-lined catopyrrha (Catopyrrha coloraria), several noctuid moths (Apharetra purpurea, Chaetaglaea cerata, Chytonix sensilis, Macrochilo bivittata, Zanclognatha martha), bird dropping moth (Cerma cora), inland barrens buckmoth, and a geometrid moth (Itame sp. 1). All of these rare species, with one exception, are associated with pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, grasslands, and other fire-maintained communities found in dry, sandy areas; the exception is the noctuid moth Macrochilo bivittata, which is associated with wetlands in the Pine Bush. The federally listed endangered Karner blue butterfly typically occurs in the grassy openings in the dry, sandy pitch pine-scrub oak barrens; its food plant and host plant for its larvae is the wild blue lupine, distributed throughout the Albany Pine Bush. Karner blue butterflies were first collected near Karner in the Albany Pine Bush and were once abundant. Recently, only small numbers of Karner blue butterflies were found at a total of six sites within this habitat complex in 1991, one on protected Pine Bush Preserve lands. Karner blues also occur at several other sites within the Hudson Valley sandplain, including a relatively large population in the Saratoga sand belt to the north. Experiments are presently being conducted at New Hampshire Karner blue sites on the management of habitat for lupine, and on the feasibility of reintroducing Karner blues into areas where they were extirpated. The lupine is also the food plant for other rare Lepidoptera, including the frosted elfin. Buckmoths (Hemilueca spp.) feed on scrub oak; the inland barrens subspecies (ssp. 3) is known to occur at only two locations in the world, in the Albany Pine Bush and in Glens Falls, New York, both of which are part of the Hudson Valley sandplain system. A related but morphologically and geographically distinct population of this species, the coastal barrens buckmoth (Hemileuca maia maia), occurs in the Long Island Pine Barrens. The Albarufan dagger moth appears to have declined in the northeast in response to gypsy moth pesticide spraying and is now considered globally rare, with only a single known viable population in the northeast (in Massachusetts). A single specimen was last reported in the Albany Pine Bush in 1983, and the species is presumed extirpated. This species is generally associated with dry oak woods or pine-oak barrens and is believed to feed on oaks.
The wetland and adjacent upland habitat in the Pine Bush and the immediate surrounding areas within the Hudson Valley sandplain support about 30 species of amphibians and reptiles, including the northernmost populations in New York State for seven species of amphibians and reptiles. Regionally rare species of amphibians include Jefferson and blue-spotted salamanders, as well as their hybrids, spotted salamander, and eastern spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii), all of which breed in vernal ponds and utilize non-breeding upland habitat surrounding these ponds. Eastern hognose snake occurs in open sandy soil with access to nearby water; this snake species depends on the toads produced by the vernal ponds as a food source. Spotted turtles occur in a variety of wetlands in the Pine Bush and are active in vernal ponds during the spring. Wood turtles occur in riparian habitat along streams in, and directly adjacent to, the Pine Bush, such as the Hungerkill.
About 45 species of birds breed in the Albany Pine Bush (according to the 1985 New York State Breeding Bird Atlas). These are mostly fairly common eastern species associated with successional habitat. The loss and fragmentation of large tracts of pitch pine habitat is indicated by the absence of breeding bird species that once occurred here, notably the pine warbler (Dendroica pinus). About 32 species of common small mammals have been found in and adjacent to the Pine Bush.
VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: The major threats to the Albany Pine Bush are continued development and suburbanization of natural habitat, the effects from existing development, and fragmentation of remaining pine barrens and adjacent habitat. Fragmentation not only reduces habitat but also eliminates connections between habitats, making fire management more difficult. The pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and interspersed grasslands are dependent on fire, and long-term suppression of fire in the Pine Bush is resulting in the succession and continued loss of these communities and the rare insect, plant, and vertebrate populations dependent on these habitats. Off-road vehicles destroy fragile plant communities, and the use of horses may introduce weeds in dropped horse manure. Illegal dumping has displaced habitat, especially in ravines, and continues to do so. Alterations to groundwater hydrology could reduce or eliminate wetlands, especially vernal ponds that support rare plant and amphibian populations. Spraying the area for gypsy moths and mosquitos can and does impact populations of rare butterflies and moths. Spraying herbicides along railroad and power line rights-of-way through the Pine Bush can result in the destruction of rare plants as well as host plants for rare insect populations. Karner blue butterfly populations continue to decline as do populations of their lupine host plant, likely due to fire suppression, development, grazing by deer, and other factors.
VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: The management plan for the Pine Bush developed by the Albany Pine Bush Commission, including the amendments in the implementation guidelines that expand the areas identified for protection, should be supported and implemented. Prescribed burning and other management techniques in the Albany Pine Bush should be carried out to restore the successional forests to pine barrens and to maintain the mosaic of existing pine barrens communities. These prescribed burns should be designed and carefully monitored to minimize adverse impacts on extant rare insect and plant populations, while at the same time enhancing their preferred habitat type. Some of the cleared areas, including the landfills, should be restored to and managed as native grasslands that support host and food plants for several rare insect species; other areas might be suitable for reforestation. The various landowners and land managers in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve need to continue to work together to preserve and maintain remaining habitats and buffers through acquisition, easements, and other means. Through fire management and other techniques, the populations of lupine and Karner blue butterfly should be enhanced and restored. Connections between extant populations of Karner blue butterflies should be maintained by managing for lupine and preserving intervening lands and corridors between populations. Research should continue on habitat requirements of Karner blue butterfly. Opportunities to restore grasslands and/or pine barrens should be sought throughout the historical Pine Bush on public land, including the State University of New York campus and the State Office campus. Remaining areas of pine barrens habitat and Karner blue habitat within the Hudson Valley sandplain outside the Albany Pine Bush should also be surveyed, protected, and managed for the greatest degree of species diversity.
Albany Pine Bush Commission. 1993. Management plan and environmental impact statement for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Albany, NY.
Andrle, R.F. and J.R. Carroll (eds.) 1988. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. A project of the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs Inc., New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 551 p.
Cryan, J.F. and R. Dirig. 1977. The moths of autumn. Occasional publication no. 1, Pine Bush Historic Preservation Project, Inc., Albany, NY.
Forman, R.T.T. (ed.). 1979. Pine Barrens: Ecosystems and Landscape. Academic Press, New York, NY.
Gebauer, S. 1996. Personal communication. Albany Pine Bush Preserve, Albany, NY.
Kerlinger, P. and C. Doremus. 1981. The breeding birds of three pine barrens in New York. Kingbird 31: 126-135.
Miller, R.L. 1976. Mammals and birds of Albany's Pine Bush. In D. Rittner (ed.) Pine Bush: Albany's last frontier. Pine Bush Historic Preservation Project, Albany, NY. 266 p.
Olsvig, L.A. 1980. A comparative study of northeastern pine barrens vegetation. Ph.D. thesis, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 479 pp.
Reschke, C. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Latham, NY.
Savignano, D. and R. Zaremba. 1990. Karner blue butterfly element stewardship abstract. The Nature Conservancy, Albany, NY.
Schneider, K., C. Reschke, and S. Young. 1991. Inventory of the rare plants, animals, and ecological communities of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Report to the Albany Pine Bush Commission, Albany, NY.
Schweitzer, D. F. 1989. A review of Category 2 Insecta in USFWS Regions 3,4, and 5. Report prepared for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, MA.
Stewart, M.M. and J. Rossi. 1981. The Albany Pine Bush: a northern outpost for southern species of amphibians and reptiles in New York. American Midland Naturalist 106:282-292.
List of Species of Special Emphasis
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