Maple Syrup, Mother Jones, and Phony Science

I have tried to cut down on the amount of politics I post.  But sometimes I find a story so fact-less and devoid of any objectivity that I have to blog it.  Enter Mother Jones and their article entitled, Peak Maple: Climate Change Wants to Ruin Your Pancakes Apparently because of one woman’s perceived decline in her maple syrup production, she has drawn the conclusion that the entire industry will meet its demise by the year 2100.  The culprit? Global Cooling. The population bomb. The hole in the ozone layer. Global warming.  Climate Change.

For many of us, climate change is an abstract topic, as tedious as a droning Al Gore lecture complete with wonky charts.

But not if you’re a maple farmer in New England. The region has long provided a robust ecological niche for maple trees. But just a few decades of steadily warming weather has changed all that. Once-flourishing trees are shedding leaves too early in the season and producing sub-par sap.

Maple syrup—dark, minerally, its sweetness cut by a caramel edge—surely ranks among the great traditional foods on planet Earth. Climate change means we can no longer take it for granted. If current trends continue, maple syrup production could well be an historical memory by 2100.

In this video, Climate Desk’s James West profiles Martha Carlson, a 65-five-year-old maple farmer, retired teacher, and citizen-scientist who is documenting and publicizing the declining state of maple trees in New Hampshire. “We need lots of citizens to observe nature,” Carlson says at one point. I bet if we all opened our eyes like Carlson has, we’d find that climate change is affecting our own landscapes, too. And then maybe we’d be able to motivate our political class to actually do something about climate change.

So because of one woman’s decline in maple syrup production, the entire industry is doomed to end in the year 2100.  So if her claims were true, then I should easily be able to find data backing up their claims that New England’s, and especially New Hampshire’s maple syrup production is on the decline. Right? Err, no actually.

United States maple syrup production in 2011 totaled 2.79 million gallons, up 43 percent from the revised 2010 total. The number of taps is estimated at 9.58 million, 3 percent above the 2010 revised total of 9.26 million. Yield per tap is estimated at 0.292 gallons, up 38 percent from the previous season’s revised yield. All States showed an increase in production from the previous year. Vermont led all States in production with 1.14 million gallons, an increase of 28 percent from 2010 and the highest level since 1945. Production in New York, at 564,000 gallons, secured New York’s place as the second in the nation.
Maine’s sugar makers produced 360,000 gallons of syrup in 2011 an increase of 14 percent from 2010. In New Hampshire, production is estimated at 120,000 gallons, highest in over 85 years. Connecticut and Massachusetts produced a combined total of 79,000 gallons, a significant increase of 108 percent from 2010. Pennsylvania production was a record high with an increase of 137 percent. Ohio producers reported excellent sap collecting conditions which produced the highest yield per tap that the State has seen since this statistic was first measured in 2001.

So she claims her area is on the decline, yet in 2011 they had their highest output in 85 years, and there was an increase in every single state.  At this point I have to ask, did anyone at Mother Jones take five minutes and actually research this topic before publishing? Did they even Google maple syrup production to see if it was in fact on the decline?  Obviously not. But hey, the world has grown accustomed to this type of  phony alarmist science (see Polar Bears, ice caps, snow, hail, etc).  The Mother Jones article is not science, it is opinion journalism masquerading as science (sounds familiar, doesn’t it).  This on the other hand, IS science:

Implications of twenty-first century climate change on Northeastern United States maple syrup production: impacts and adaptations

“Previous research on the impacts of maple syrup production in the Northeastern United States has been based on correlative relationships between syrup production and average temperature. Here a simple biologically and physically-based model of sapflow potential is used to assess observed changes in sapflow across the Northeastern US from 1980 to 2006; document the correspondence between these observations and independent downscaled  atmosphere ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) simulations of conditions during this period; and quantify changes in sapflow potential through 2100. The sapflow model is able to capture the spatial and temporal (in terms of the start date of sapflow) variations of sapflow that are observed across the Northeast. Likewise the AOGCM simulations reflect the mean number of sapflow days and the timing of sapflow during the 1980–2006 overlap period. Through the twenty-first century, warming winter temperatures will result in a decline in the number of sapflow days if traditional sap collection schedules are maintained. Under the A1fi emissions scenario the number of sapflow days decreases by up to 14 days. However, the changes in climate also translate the optimal timing of sap collection to earlier in the year. Across the region, the time period that maximizes the number of sapflows days becomes as much as 30 days earlier by 2100 under the A1fi emissions scenario. Provided this change is accounted for by modifying the start of the traditional sap collection schedule, there is essentially no net loss of sapflow days across the majority of the region, with a net increase of sapflow days indicated in the extreme north.”

Key words being “no net loss of sapflow days across the majority of the region, with a net increase of sapflow days indicated in the extreme north” through the year 2100.  Yet what does the above article say?  “No maple syrup by 2100.” Mother Jone’s article isn’t science.  It’s opinion journalism dressed up and passed off as science.  Al Gore would be proud.

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Martha Carlson, if you are reading this, I highly recommend you buy a copy of the North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual.  Pay particular attention to Chapter 5 – Managing Maple Trees For Sap Production, specifically pages 53-67.  It addresses the problems you describe and how to properly manage your maple forest for maximum production. Sorry, climate change is not one of the topics covered.

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