In 1995, the Karner Dunes Adventure Park was supposed to be built on a 6-acre site of the Pine Bush Preserve. Save the Pine Bush lost the suit to stop development, but the town of Guilderland, which had jurisdiction, refused to allow it to be built. The owner sold the land to The Nature Conservancy, and lupine was replanted at the site to expand Karner blue butterfly habitat.
In 2001, a bank proposed to expand its headquarters, which were on a 6-acre site in the Pine Bush ecosystem, in the middle of prime habitat for the Karner blue butterfly. Save the Pine Bush failed to get an injunction for the office's construction years earlier, but the group succeeded in stopping rezoning of the land from residential to commercial, crippling the bank's plans for further expansion. The bank, unable to modify the multimillion-dollar building in which it invested, conducted a land trade in 2008 with the state of New York to move its office elsewhere.
The building now serves as the office for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and a discovery center to provide visitors with interactive exhibits and outreach activities.
In 2003, Save the Pine Bush filed a lawsuit opposing the development plans for the construction of a hotel in the pine bush. The case was not settled until 2010, in favor of the hotel, but the judgment set the precedent for case law that gives environmental groups standing to file lawsuits based on environmental concerns. [Photos: Butterflies Drink Turtle Tears]
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Karner blue butterfly has suffered nearly a 99 percent reduction in its population across its historic range over the last century, mostly due to habitat destruction. Its numbers in the Albany Pine Bush preserve have recovered from fewer than 200 in the 1980s to estimates in the thousands, currently. The state of New York began purchasing parcels of land to dedicate to the preserve, which now covers up to 3,200 acres, and there are plans to expand the preservation area.
"Over the past decade, active habitat management and an accelerated Karner blue butterfly recolonization program in the Albany Pine Bush has helped the species recover to the point at which it has reached its recovery threshold in the area, and captive rearing may not be necessary in the future, although the butterflies will continue to be monitored and protected within the preserve," said Christopher Hawver, executive director of the Albany Pine Bush Commission.
Hawver has been working with the preserve since 1993 when he started volunteering on a prescribed burn to maintain habitats in the preserve, which depend on periodic fire. After several promotions, he worked his way up to his current role, which he has held since 2000.
"People should visit the Albany Pine Bush Preserve not only because its 3,200 acres [make up] the largest open recreation area in the Albany metro capital region, but also because it is one of most globally rare ecosystems on Earth," Hawver said.
During the past 15 years, through intensive habitat promotion by the preserve's commission and its partners, invasive species removals, native species plantings and recovery strategy implementations, the preserve and the biodiversity that thrives in it are amid a strong recovery from the effects of habitat fragmentation. The efforts of have saved and revitalized a threatened ecological treasure.
In fragmented habitats, nearly half of all species are lost within 20 years, and this downward trend continues over time. Across the United States, fragile and rare ecosystems have suffered large scale destruction at the hands of voracious development, increasing populations, and the resources our lifestyles call for.
And yet, through conservation and intense recovery and land management, it is possible to give nature a helping hand to resist the negative impacts of a shrinking wilderness.
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