Maple syrup is sweet, delicious and this is the time of year it’s made, or wrung if you will, from the sap of maple trees in what folks in the Northeast of the U.S. call the sugaring season. And this season of sweetness gathering is only once a year and only for about two weeks—explaining why this nectar of the north is often a pricey commodity.
Like many sweetness junkies I really (really) love pure maple syrup and there are oh so many ways to enjoy this gift from the forests. Maple candies, maple butter, maple cookies and, yes, maple beer—although I have yet to make that last one a priority, I’m very willing to try!
But it’s not all syrup, candy and cookies for the future of the sugaring season. Our warming planet is affecting both the growing range of maples as well as the timing of the tapping of sap.
The good news is, studies by the USDA Forest Service have examined the relationships between sap flow and increasing temperatures over the years and have found that the number of sap flow days may not change in the Northeast, but the timing of peak production is shifting earlier in the year.
In other words, by tapping maple trees earlier in the sugaring season, maple syrup producers in states like New Hampshire and Vermont and other northern states should be able to keep producing maple syrup for the next 100 years. So, fellow junkies, no need to worry! Maple syrup will continue to flow in late February in years to come.
The somewhat bad news is that studies also indicate that the southern extent of maple tree habitat, states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, might see overall production reduced sooner.
To help us understand the sugaring process a little better, the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station developed an atlas of the potential future habitat for many tree species in the Eastern U.S. with an emphasis on maples.
As mentioned above, the atlas shows that changes in temperature will likely reduce the amount of a suitable habitat for maple trees in the coming century. So, while maple trees won't necessarily vanish from the Southern U.S. landscape, there could be fewer trees that are more stressed, possibly reducing maple syrup availability.
For the foreseeable future, the sugaring season and its armies of maple syrup tappers will continue to provide us sweetness junkies with plenty of pancake eating delight for many years to come.