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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Climate Change: and Maple Syrup

Maple Trees in Connecticut being Affected

Updated 11:25 p.m., Friday, March 25, 2011

This year, the sap has been running well in the maple trees at Warrups Farm in West Redding
"It's been a very good year,'' said Bill Hill
, the farm's owner.
The deep snow cover on the ground made the taps in the trees hard to get to, he said, but 
once the snow melted, the trees just sucked the water up, making a lot of sap.
That's in contrast to the warm, dry spring in 2010, which kept syrup production low.
"It ran for the first few days, and that was it,'' Hill said.
That proves that, like the great majority of agricultural pursuits in Connecticut, making
maple syrup is almost totally weather-dependent.
The trees, the taps, the sap and the boiling down can't happen unless there's good weather for syrup-making -- days in the 40s, nights in the 20s.

Which is why climate change could profoundly alter the maple syrup business -- in 
Connecticut, in New England.

That means a part of the taste of life here could slip away. Denying it is happening won't change anything.

"Climate change is happening,'' said Thomas Philbrick, professor of environmental and biological science at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. "We know it's happening.

"Will it affect the maples in Connecticut? Yes,'' Philbrick said this month, speaking about the science of maple trees and maple syrup-making in WestConn's Science at Night series.
"When will it happen? I don't know.''
Maples are unique in being able to produce enough sap to boil down to syrup -- it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup -- and in having enough sweetness to make something that tastes so good.
"Do all trees have sap?'' Philbrick said. "Technically, yes. But do they have enough to make something out of it? Maybe not.''
In Connecticut, sugar maples are at the southern end of their range.
While the sugar maples are found in isolated stands elsewhere in the East, they're the dominant trees of the maple-birch-beech forests that cover New England and New York state.
Philbrick said climate models show that in a warmer environment the forests of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic states -- oak, hickory, poplar and gum trees -- could move north into New England.
In turn, the maples will retreat to where they're comfortable -- in the colder climate of northern New England and Canada.
It's not that there will no longer be maple syrup. 
It's just that it won't be made here.
 It will have to be shipped south for Connecticut pancakes.
Secondly, Philbrick said, if springs in New England get warmer, there may be fewer of those 40-degree days and 20-degree nights to count on.
Like the warm spring of 2010, the weather may start a sap run in March, then move on to April-like weather.
At the same time, Philbrick acknowledged, it's not as if the maples in the state will move en masse and quickly.
"How long does a maple tree live? One hundred years, 200 years,'' he said.
But if we do lose them, it will matter.

The native Americans in New England were making maple sugar before the Europeans arrived.
People have been walking in the winter woods, tasting the sweetness they have to offer, for a very long time.
"Who can't like maple syrup?'' Philbrick said. "It's deeply ingrained in our culture.''
Contact Robert Miller at or at 203-731-3345.

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