The World Forestry Center’s resident tree farm manager, Liam Hassett, was out in late February checking the latest sap flows from the farm’s native maples. He is conducting preliminary tests to explore the idea of incorporating a nontimber product such as maple sap into the farm’s forest management plan.
Acer macrophyllum, or the bigleaf maple, is a maple native to the Pacific Northwest and one of the largest of the maple species. It is not popularly known, but bigleaf maple is one of the tree species containing sap that can be turned into a number of food-based consumer products, including syrup! Bigleaf maple has a comparable sugar content to its eastern cousin, the sugar maple (where most of our maple syrup comes from), but the bigleaf maple is considered by some to have a more robust flavor.
On a small working tree farm such as WFC’s Magness Memorial Tree Farm which is just 80 acres, revenue from timber extraction alone is limited. To build additional revenue streams, WFC is looking at ways to develop a full systems approach to sustainable forest management. Using a nontimber forest product, especially in under-utilized areas such as riparian zones, is one way to do this. “We’ve seen demand for sap just within our local community and syrup is just one commodity from this product. This year is a “hobby year” to determine where the sap flows are and in future years we hope to develop a piping system to move this project forward,” says Liam.
Maple and walnut sap flows on Magness Tree Farm appear to have slowed down in the last month, but Liam is excited to welcome the window for birch sap flows that will soon follow. The World Forestry Center hopes this venture can also be another avenue for education about small tree farm management in the region.