Maple syrup: Climate change takes another victim

Maple trees in New Hampshire. Photo by r_gallant, Flickr.

Climate change is bringing the fight to one of the sacred places of American culture — the breakfast table, or more specifically to maple syrup. Pancakes, waffles, and French toast are all at the mercy of the climate changes that are altering the amount and way maple syrup — the only, proper topping for these delicious breakfast staples — is collected throughout America’s northeastern forests.

A new report from the USDA shows that maple syrup production in New York has fallen more than 100,000 gallons over the past year — down a whopping 29% from 2009 levels.

Growing up, I have fond memories of helping my dad collect maple sap from local trees around our house south of Pittsburgh. Some days, the gallon jugs tied to the taps were overflowing, spilling onto the ground. Other days, the production was so little that it wasn’t even worth adding to the larger collection buckets.

According to a reliable source (my dad), maple trees need cold nights (20 degrees) and warm days (40 degrees, give or take) to really get the sap running. In Pittsburgh this means that primetime for maple syrup is late February into early March.

Without those temperature swings, the sap doesn’t run as prodigiously — and it takes a lot of sap to make the sweet, delicious maple syrup that tops the nation’s waffles and pancakes. More than 20 gallons of the watery sap went into every gallon of maple syrup that was boiled down in my family’s kitchen (which made for a muggy, nearly tropical experience in the dead of Pittsburgh winter).

But as the planet warms, and seasons become less predictably cold, the winter temps that are needed to produce the forest nectar simply aren’t happening.

The culprits are the same as they’ve been for decades — unregulated greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere from dirty fuels like coal, oil, and even natural gas. We are still experiencing the effects of carbon pollution from the Industrial Revolution — it is now even more critical to put a lid on the greenhouse gas pollution that is threatening our lands, our communities, and our breakfast tables.

photo: Maple trees in New Hampshire. Photo by r_gallant, Flickr.