Schenectady County

Habitat plan to require burning

Don Rittner told Woodlawn residents Wednesday that he’ll have to set a fire on land near their homes

Don Rittner told Woodlawn residents Wednesday that he’ll have to set a fire on land near their homes if he’s going to manage the Woodlawn Preserve as a Pine Bush habitat.

But Rittner, who is writing a management plan for the preserve, tried to assure residents that fires won’t spread beyond the boundaries of the mixed sandy, boggy land.

“The first fire in the Albany Pine Bush, I was in charge of it,” he said. “The film crews and the newspapers were all sure I was going to burn Albany down. Get that camera going! After about five minutes they were asking me to throw something into the fire so they could have a story.”

He grinned. “It was so controlled it was boring.”

Residents at Wednesday’s neighborhood association meeting didn’t dispute his comments, although some had privately asked their leaders to broach the topic.

Rittner had previously said he would have to “consider” controlled burns. Wednesday was the first time that he publicly said fires are necessary.

“Without fire you can’t have lupine. Without lupine you can’t have Karner blue [butterflies],” he said.


Residents were far more concerned about the illegal use of all terrain vehicles in the preserve. The ATVs are ripping away the sand dunes — and also bring groups of underage partiers deep into the preserve, where many of them light bonfires and drink beer.

Police are now patrolling the preserve with their own ATVs. Last week the officer assigned to that patrol towed five ATVs, forcing the drivers to walk home and pay a towing fee to retrieve their vehicles.

Rittner wants the city to hire a conservation officer who would manage and patrol the preserve full time. In 1983, when Rittner held that position in Albany, he handed out $500 tickets to every ATV driver he found in the Albany Pine Bush.

“Word gets around real fast. Within a year we had no ATV problem anymore,” he said, to scattered applause. Then he added ruefully, “My guess is we got them out of Albany and they came here.”

Rittner said the conservation officer could also put an end to the dumping problem at the preserve. People regularly toss bags of trash there.

“People who do that are not very bright,” Rittner said. “I opened the bags of garbage and looked for an envelope with their name on it and brought it back to them. People get real red-faced, and then I tell them, if I have to do this again, I’m going to fine you.”

Residents raised one other issue at Wednesday’s meeting — the troubling possibility of allowing bow-hunting and trapping in the preserve. Both activities are allowed in Albany’s Pine Bush, but residents said they don’t want it in Schenectady.

“I don’t want it either,” Rittner said. “But some people on my committee do because they’re hunters.”

The committee is developing a management plan for the preserve. Rittner plans to have many public meetings as plans coalesce over the next year, at which residents can express their views on hunting, controlled burns and other controversial issues that the committee must resolve. Meeting dates have not yet been announced.

The preserve entrance is at the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Gifford Road in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Categories: Schenectady County

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