Future for Maples: Not So Sweet

We are late to the late winter tradition of tapping maples for sap and then syrup. This is only our second season, after learning that you don’t have to have a sugar maples to get sweet returns for your efforts.

This is our yield from this year’s few days of collecting sap (up to 2 gallons a day) while the days were still cool enough to cook it up on the wood stove.

We make a little syrup for a couple of pancake suppers later on in the year. Many people make syrup for a living, or to supplement farm income, especially in the New England states.

If current trends continue, sugaring in the bush may become just a bedtime story of long ago. Forests of the north are not having such a sweet time of it lately.

Maple sap is running significantly earlier than it did in your father’s younger years. In fact, the range of temps that maples prefer may send the genus Acer far up into Canada as Vermont’s climate is becoming more like Virginia’s.

Add to that the north-moving insect pests, the increased likelihood of severe storms and drought, and the acidification of the soil—and there may be hard times ahead for many forestry-related industries, not to mention the losses of the ecological services that millions of acres of formerly-healthy trees have provided to humanity in generations past.

As I typed that last line, I looked out to see a sapsucker racketing its way up the maple. Here’s another movement of nature to come: home ranges of the familiar species—at least of those that can made the trip—will be moving north or higher in elevation. For the salamanders who need it wetter and cooler, they will just have to take what comes and live or die in place.

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fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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