The start of maple sugaring season is always unpredictable and producers begin tapping based on a number of factors, but the lore says that several weeks of deep freeze are needed to ensure a good season. Some producers begin tapping in early January and some years are rewarded with an early harvest. Others tap around the same time every year based on years of experience or staunch adherence to tradition. Using traditional technology, it is a balancing act. Tap too soon and your tap holes may heal over and you’ll lose out on the bountiful late harvest. Tap too late and you may miss a good portion of the sap if it’s an abnormally early season. In my limited experience, the season is trending earlier and the data backs this up. An earlier season also means less days in the season which means less maple syrup.
For those that hope to make a profit, the decision on when to tap and the waiting game can be quite nerve racking. The start of the 2016 season has been terrifying. The warm fall leading into a freakishly warm December have set off alarm bells for anyone who has been paying attention to the quickly changing climate patterns. If a December rainstorm over the North Pole or rare January hurricane (ALEX) isn’t an indicator of something drastic happening with the weather, then you may be watching too much Fox “News”.
I have written about climate change and the effect on the maple industry. Listening to the voices coming out of the Paris climate talks, I was especially struck by activists from Arctic communities who count themselves among the first climate victims. Sami reindeer herders and Inuit fisher people have been seeing big changes for over a generation. The ecosystems that they are an intimate part of are disintegrating as the deer starve, the ice gets thinner and the weather gets warmer.
Maple syrup is now considered an endangered food along side the likes of chocolate, honey, coffee and tuna. The season get shorter, the trees feel more and more pressure from disease and pests and the hardy northern folk that harvest the sap of maple may soon count themselves among the victims. For now, the thing to do is to maintain the tradition and hope a future that includes maple trees, sugarshacks and pancakes. We must also get in the fight. There are battles to save our climate raging in every corner of the world. Stop a pipeline, a gas storage facility, a coal power plant. And keep tapping those trees.
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