Spare that tree!

It has come to the attention of Missoula officials that some maple trees in the city are being tapped for their syrup, and that’s illegal.

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KGVO News spoke to Marie Anderson, Urban Forestry Program Specialist for the City of Missoula about the issue of tapping maple trees.

“It is that time of year when people do start tapping maple trees for syrup,” said Anderson. “They are tapped when they're still somewhat dormant coming into the spring. We have several of our volunteers in Trees for Missoula. They are some highly trained volunteers that keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground, so to speak, and they let us know when they see things.”

Anderson explained that Missoula’s maple trees are in stress this winter.

“Our urban forest is primarily made up of Sugar and Norway maples, but we also have Silver and Box Elder and a few others,” she said. “They're under severe stress already because of the level of drought we're under. And with Missoula’s aquifer, which is amazing, we have this porous substrate over the top of it, and that poor soil doesn't have a high water holding capacity. And so these trees are already pretty stressed because they don't have access to a lot of water and especially right now they are in dormancy and so pulling any of their stored energy reserves from their sap can be very, very detrimental.”

Anderson further explained how trees deal with the stress of changing seasons.

“When trees get ready to leaf out in the spring, that's what they're using to put out a whole new canopy, and if they're already stressed from having that sap removed, even if it's just a small portion of it, then that can cause quite a bit of die-back in the canopy or it could also cause tree death at this point. We do have some trees in our urban forests that are just in such a decline and they can't take the loss of any more energy reserves.”

Anderson said there are stiff penalties for tapping the city’s maple trees.

“If you get caught, it is a $500 fine, and that's preset in our ordinance and we will prosecute if we have to,” she said. “We would rather educate people as to why this is an important resource for the public good and not necessarily a great tree to tap. Another thing that can happen is the loss of the equipment. So if we find tapping equipment, we will pull it from a tree.”

Anderson said that street trees are an integral part of Missoula’s green infrastructure, providing cooling in the summer, mitigating urban heat islands, filtering thousands of gallons of storm water, cleaning the air, reducing greenhouse gases and making Missoula a more pleasant place to live.

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