Maple season starts in Middlebury

Officials of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation helped kick off the 28th annual Governor's Tree Tapping at Middlebury College's Mead Chapel last week. The event celebrated 100 years supporting Vermonters in their stewardship of our forests, home to Vermont's No. 1 export, maple syrup.

The Vermont mobile sugarhouse was there with sugar-on-snow, cotton candy, maple cream, maple popsicles and other maple delights. State foresters also had displays about health and maintenance of sugar maple forests.

"There are so many obvious reasons why sugar maple trees are valuable to Vermonters, and during tapping season, maple syrup is high on the list," said Scott Pfister, chief of forest protection. "But sugar maples are also exceptional in their ability to endure tough conditions and bounce back to health - much like the people of Vermont."

Pfister and his team have paid particular attention to sugar maples, monitoring their health and reporting back on sugarbush conditions for the past 21 years.

Last year was a particularly good one, with dense lush foliage, Pfister said. In 2008, all 4.7 million acres of forestland were evaluated from an airplane at least once and crews on the ground assessed tree health on 30 plots with more than 1,000 trees, as part of the North American Maple Project.

"I have to say, based on our on-the-ground surveys, the trees were in their best condition we've seen," Pfister said. "All that rain last summer provided an extra healthy boost to sugar maples."

The news hasn't always been so rosy. Over the past two decades, Vermont's forests have endured pear thrips insect damage, drought years, the 1998 ice storm, forest tent caterpillar defoliation and more.

State foresters are now on the lookout for the Asian longhorned beetle, which was detected in Worcester, Mass., in November. Pfister said more than 4,000 trees were infested and that a 63-square-mile area is under quarantine.

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