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Sugar season: A forest at work for Vermont

MIDDLEBURY - Maple sugaring is a major industry in Vermont and one that melds well with the Green Mountain National Forest's multiple use mission. The Forest recently renewed five maple tapping permits and is working with Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association and other groups to look at areas for expansion of maple production in Vermont's sole national forest. "We produce more maple than any other state in the country and it is high quality," said Catherine Stevens of the Vermont Maple Syrup Industry. Stevens was former marketing director at Champlain College. Vermont maple syrup is in demand because of the high standards sugar makers in the state have for storage, tubing and their commitment to keeping it natural and organic. Many restaurants are even demanding the syrup as a preferred sugar substitute. But as the demand rises, "The state is becoming more developed and there are fewer lands available for sugaring," said Stevens. And the industry is looking to state and federal public lands to provide areas for sugaring as the industry grows and the trees decrease. Four out of five permitted sugarbushes are in operation on the Green Mountain National Forest this spring, a total of 3,720 taps, with the possibility of yielding 770 gallons, around $30,000 of revenue with current maple prices. The taps are located in Lincoln Stockbridge, Pomfret, and Mount Tabor and the Forest is considering reopening two to three additional historic maple tapping sites. "Supporting maple production contributes to the local economy and supports the rich history and culture of sugaring in Vermont. It also helps fight forest fragmentation due to the desire to retain the maple grove and the grove's economic value," said Forest Supervisor Meg Mitchell, "It is a strong desire of ours and Vermont citizens to manage the Green Mountain National Forest as a working forest." This was a desire repeated during development of the 2006 Forest Plan. The forest hopes to become a larger player in providing trees for the maple production industry, and help contribute to the local economy. "During fluctuating markets and uncertainly, the forest can help provide a steady economic base by providing and sustaining resources, more than just maple syrup, for the local economy and supporting employment through contracts and stewardship work," said Mitchell. "The National Forest and the State could really have an important role to play in providing and maintaining maple sugaring and there is strong support for keeping the Forest a working Forest," said Rick Marsh of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association, "This is land that is not going to be sold off for development." That helps sugar makers make longer term investments because they know the trees will be there for a long time. There are challenges to sugaring on National Forest lands, one of them being distance and drive time. "If a sugar-maker abuts the Forest and simply expands their operation on to the National Forest, it is more economically feasible," said Rick Marsh of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association. When producers have to drive and haul equipment a great distance, the production becomes less cost effective. Forest Service research personnel from Durham, New Hampshire actively monitor all the sugarbush areas for forest health related concerns such as insects, pests, and diseases. The Green Mountain National Forest has the authority to suspend tapping if monitoring shows stand health has been compromised by insects or disease. Forest staff monitor the sugarbushes for compliance with their permit terms and conditions, ensuring impacts on public lands and resources are minimized.

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