Maple syrup, a New England staple since Colonial times, may become an exotic import as a result of global warming. Sap production from sugar maples is dependent on warm days and freezing nights. But climate change has been accompanied by earlier and earlier springs — and a smaller window for producing maple syrup.
Back as 2004, the Associated Press reported on this trend as documented by the Clark Sugar House in Acworth, N.H., in business since 1896. According to Clark family records, sugar maples were never tapped before March until the mid-1980s. Then, as spring began arriving earlier each year, the timetable was moved back to February.
Three years later the New York Times checked in with Vermont maple-sugar farmers, including Burr Morse, who said he’d missed out on at least 300 gallons of sap because even February had proven to be too late.
“You might be tempted to say, well that’s a bunch of baloney — global warming,” Morse told the Times. “But the way I feel, we get too much warm. How many winters are we going to go with Decembers turning into short-sleeve weather, before the maple trees say, ‘I don’t like it here any more?’ ”
Indeed, according to the Times, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that winter temperatures in the Northeast had risen by 2.8 degrees between 1971 and 2007. The Times story also finds that though the main effect of global warming now is that maple-sugar season takes place earlier in season, eventually sugar maples will be crowded out by trees more suited to a warmer climate.* The New England Climate Coalition has posted state-by-state data here.
Quebec already dominates the maple-syrup industry. If present trends continue — and there’s no reason to think they won’t — then New England’s maple-sugar farms could soon be reduced to museums. Or Wal-Marts.
*Sentence added for clarity.