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Bird-Friendly Maple Syrup in New York State

The Bird-Friendly Maple program was successful established by Audubon Vermont and is currently in its pilot phase in New York.

Albany, NY — New York state produced approximately 820 thousand gallons of maple syrup in 2019, which makes it the second leading producer in the nation. Vermont is the largest maple producer in the nation, where approximately over two million gallons of maple syrup were made in 2019.

According to Zack Boerman, Forest Program Associate for Audubon New York “Here in New York we have a very active community of maple syrup producers exchanging ideas and lessons learned, leading family-owned and operated small businesses. It’s not necessarily a full-time job for all of these folks, although they are fully invested in the work. They’re seriously motivated go-getters who love what they do,”  

Boerman is helping launch the state’s first Bird-Friendly Maple pilot program along with Suzanne Treyger, Forest Program Manager for Audubon New York, 

Audubon New York is working with with NYS maple producers to manage their sugarbushes (a strand of maple trees) in more of a natural way as part of its Healthy Forests initiative. 

It is with great hopes that this more natural way of forest management will help songbirds, including but not limited to Veeries, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes and as a result will make maple products more attractive to nature lovers.

Treyger said “This project is truly a collaborative effort,” “We are integrating bird conservation with New York’s maple syrup industry by promoting sugarbush management practices that support birds, forest health, and sustainable sap production. The birds and the sugarbush both benefit.”

The Bird-Friendly Maple program was successful established by Audubon Vermont and the project is currently in its pilot phase in New York.

In North America, maple syrup is the most popular natural sweetener next to honey and its production predates European colonization. Indigenous peoples from the northeastern part of North America were the first group known to produce maple syrup and maple sugar. Aboriginal oral traditions and archaeological evidence suggest that organic raw maple tree sap was being turned into syrup long before Europeans arrived. European settlers adopted the practice and advanced production methods.  

“Our two pilot participants are Sunny Hill Farm in Arcade, NY and Mapleland Farms in Salem, NY. These two producers are pretty distinct, one with about 15 acres of productive sugarbush and the other with over 600. Yet they are both driven by the same goal to have a healthy, resilient sugarbush habitat that reduces the presence and impact of sugar maple insect and disease pests, and increases habitat quality for forest birds,” Boerman added. 

“Many of these folks aren’t producing year-round. If you have 100 acres of sugarbush that’s in production during the winter, you want to support a healthy habitat for the rest of the year.”

Maple Specialist for the Cornell Maple Program Aaron Wightman added, “This program empowers consumers to play a direct role in bird conservation. Every unit of maple syrup purchased displaces sweeteners produced from other sources that do not sustain bird habitat, such as intensively cultivated corn and cane sugar fields. Maple syrup is unique because it is produced from intact forest ecosystems.”  

In order to join in the pilot program, participants must follow a set of guidelines to help ensure important bird habitat characteristics are integrated into sugarbush management.

The guidelines include:

  • A forest habitat assessment conducted by Audubon New York staff. The assessment will capture current habitat conditions and provide habitat management recommendations for participating sugarbushes.
  • To limit disturbance to nesting birds, harvests within participating sugarbushes must be conducted outside the nesting season (breeding season runs May – July).
  • A range of tree sizes, from seedlings to trees > 30 inches diameter, should be provided for current and future tappable trees to promote long-term health and sustainability of the stand. This variety of size classes creates layers of vegetation (vertical structural diversity) within the sugarbush that provide places to nest, forage, seek cover, and raise young for a variety of forest birds.

“When we were at Mapleland Farms for the first time to meet the owners and walk the property, they were meeting with other producers and exchanging barrels of syrup, and they told us that was just an average day! Everyone is so invested in making high quality syrup, and it’s really for local people to enjoy. They have a sugar house open for pancake weekends during the sugaring season,” said Boerman. “These are people who care so much, and that makes them ideal partners to help protect birds and the places they need.”

The Cornell Maple Program and the NYS Maple Producers Association are also partners in this program.

Some of the information in this article originally appeared here http://www.tenonanatche.com/maple-syrup.htm and has been republished with permission.

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