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Maple farmers add new label to their syrup products this season, signaling shift in industry: 'People really value it'

"They're supporting environmentally friendly products and causes through socially conscious shopping."

"They're supporting environmentally friendly products and causes through socially conscious shopping."

Photo Credit: iStock

Maple farmers around New England are looking to increase bird diversity in forests by allowing the growth of a variety of trees and shrubs rather than focusing on a single beneficial species for syrup production.

As Mongabay observed, the clearing of forest areas for the sake of agriculture in the United States' northeast in the 1800s decimated available habitats for birds and other woodland creatures, with the wood thrush, in particular, seeing a decline in population because of forest loss.

To boost the survival of birds and improve biodiversity, more maple producers are now embracing the presence of tree species other than the sugar maple in their land, avoiding the damage a monoculture can bring and improving forest resilience. 

The Bird-Friendly Maple Project calls on maple farms to commit to a management plan that means no more than 75% of the sugarbush is made up of sugar maples while also improving the amount of vegetation on the forest floor up to 5 feet and the presence of trees between 5 and 30 feet high. 

Qualifying farms are permitted to add a special logo to their products, featuring a scarlet tanager, that demonstrates their commitment to making their maple forests bird-friendly.

"Although boiling happens in the sugarhouse, maple syrup is really made in the woods," Don Bourdon from Bourdon Maple Farm told Mongabay, discussing the value of a healthy forest ecosystem to syrup production.

Bourdon's farm still has a 90% presence of sugar maples among the larger sugarbush trees, but the commitment to improving diversification has allowed them to add the coveted logo to their products. Since cultivating a biodiverse forest overnight is nearly impossible, maple farmers can use the logo if they demonstrate their willingness to improve their practices. 

While the presence of more and varied bird species is not only beneficial for the survival of these creatures, it also helps the maple producers, as the birds eat pests that could cause damage to trees and spread disease. 

The practice of putting healthy ecosystems within the heart of agriculture rather than simply treating the practice as a way to create food regardless of the environmental costs is known as agroecology. Embracing agroecology has been described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as important for reducing global heating thanks to a thriving forest's ability to capture planet-warming carbon from the air.

"People really value it," said Meg Emmons from Bourdon Maple Farm, per Mongabay. "They're supporting environmentally friendly products and causes through socially conscious shopping."

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