Hundreds of invasive trees will be removed from the Pine Bush Preserve before next year, which will dramatically shift the landscape in preparation for a native habitat.
People traveling near the intersection of Washington Avenue Extension and New Karner Road in Albany might notice the skyline opening up at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Wildlife habitat restoration efforts started this month at the rare ecosystem involving the removal of black locust trees across 47 acres. Native pitch pine and oak trees will not be removed, and native grasses, wildflowers and wild blue lupine will be planted.
Joel Hecht, stewardship director of the preserve, said estimates put around 300 to 500 black locust trees per acre, so thousands of trees will be removed.
“They don’t belong here, and they are extremely invasive,” said Hecht. “Basically, all these trees do is kill the native pine barren vegetation that was there before.”
Christopher Hawver, executive director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, said “large, mature forests” do not characterize pine bush habitats. Creating a more open landscape will help foster native wildlife.
“While the changes to this area will at first seem abrupt, the long term effect will be a return to the diversity and unique ecology of open pine barrens that once existed,” Hecht said in a statement.
This is the largest eradication effort the commission has done. More than 250 acres of locust trees have been removed over the past 18 years, with the largest tackled at once previously at 23 acres.
“This particular site is a lot more visible than the other sites have been,” said Hecht.
Once trees are removed, the stumps and roots will be ripped out because the roots could continue to spread the tree if left in place. A bulldozer will then smooth out the site for planting native species.
As demand for locust tree woods has risen, the cost to remove the trees has declined.
“It is great for us because then we can do more,” said Hecht. “It certainly will strike people differently this time than the others.”
The commission typically paid around $5,000 per acre for removal services, but this year the expense has dropped to about $1,300 per acre. The company removing the trees gets to keep any profits from selling wood from the trees.
Hecht said locust trees were originally introduced to the area around 100 years ago because famers liked using the trees for firewood. The trees would grow quickly, he said, and provide a dense wood to burn.
The problem is one tree could end up taking over 10 acres in as little as three decades.
“Once mature locust trees have taken over an area, they preclude the use of prescribed fires, which are carefully managed fires set by trained personnel under very controlled conditions and used as a restoration tool,” Hecht said in a statement. “Locust trees must be eliminated before the habitat can be returned to a true pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, complete with the rare plants and animals that make this preserve such a unique place.”