Monday February 24, 2014 | 12:18 PM
Posted by Mike Tetreault

While many of us are looking ahead to this year’s maple sugaring season, the good folks at the University of Maine in Orono are looking way, way ahead, to the future of maple sugaring in Maine.

Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is studying the relationships between weather and sap flow. (See Portland Press Herald story.) Her goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.

Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

A lot happens to a sugar maple in late winter/early spring. We know those warm days and cold nights produce a pump-like effect on the sap. But as Shrum knows, there’s a lot we don’t know, not only about the process of sap flow, but how producers can best respond to a warming climate.

In Maine, sugaring season usually starts between mid-February and mid-March and continues for about six weeks. And over the years, the season steadily creeps back earlier into February.

“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says. A 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.

Big sugar producers might be better suited to tap earlier, but smaller producers – who often hold other jobs – may have a harder time, according to Shrum.

During the course of her study, Shrum may discover other impacts of a changing climate for sugar producers here in Maine and beyond.

Scientists at The Nature Conservancy have been looking at the impacts of climate change in many ways, across numerous landscapes. For example, our scientists rated 156 million acres across the Northeast for their ability to help species survive climate impacts. We identified key areas – natural strongholds, if you will – that hold promise for wildlife and forests to remain resilient in the future.

Like our forests and trees, Maine’s maple producers will need to remain resilient in this changing world.

We wish Jenny Shrum well on her study and look forward to the results.

By the way, don’t forget to visit one of Maine’s sugarhouses. The Maine Maple Producers Association holds its annual Maine Maple Sunday on March 23. It’s a sweet event.

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Mike Tetreault leads The Nature Conservancy in Maine, where he works with partners in conservation, government and community development to identify solutions which ensure that Maine's natural resources are available for people and for nature.

He holds a degree in environmental studies from Brown and a MS from the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont, and has studied resource management in Kenya, Mexico and throughout New England.

Tetreault started his career teaching wilderness leadership and environmental education, and has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1998. He lives in Bath with his wife, their daughter and a menagerie of pets.


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