The Journal Gazette
Saturday, March 16, 2019 1:00 am

Squirrel issue hits local syrup makers


Squirrels apparently are taking a bite out of maple syrup production.

The crafty critters have been chewing through plastic lines that funnel the sap to containers after trees are tapped.   

“It's been the last three years that it's been happening,” said Mary Franke, who, with her husband, Courtney, tap three maples in their yard in Howe.

She said she hasn't a clue why the squirrels go after the equipment – except that she can't imagine any creature who wouldn't go after the sweet nectar after a long, hard winter.

“Wouldn't you?” she asks.

But the problem won't affect the annual Maple Syrup Days today and Sunday at Maple Wood Nature Center in LaGrange, said Leslie Arnold, a naturalist with LaGrange County Parks and Recreation.

“I haven't heard of one single incident of any of our tubing having chew marks on it,” Arnold said. But this has been an odd year for sugaring because of the weather, she added.

Sap runs best when temperatures are in the 20s at night and in the 40s in the daytime, Arnold explained. This year, it's generally been colder than that.

“We haven't gotten any real substantial runs until this week,” she said. “We're down quite a bit.”

So far this year, about 1,800 gallons of sap have been gathered from about 500 trees with more than 600 taps, Arnold said.

It takes 40 to 50 gallons to make one gallon of syrup, she said, adding she didn't have numbers from past years for comparison. 

But there's good news.

“The sap we have collected has had a high percentage of sugar. It's making some really sweet, really clear, beautiful syrup,” Arnold said.

Those wanting a taste of 2019's vintage can stop by the Nature Center from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today and Sunday for a pancake and sausage breakfast featuring fresh maple syrup from the local trees. Served by the South Milford Lions Club, the breakfast costs $7 for adults and $3 for children younger than 12.

Visitors to Maple Sugar Days also can watch sap being boiled into syrup in the center's sugar shack, take a horse-drawn wagon ride through the sugarbush and learn how to tap trees and make syrup. Those activities are free.

Maple syrup is also for sale at $17 a quart. The center is at 4550 E. 100 South in LaGrange.

ACRES Land Trust is also hosting a members-only pancake-and-syrup breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon today at Asherwood Environmental Center, 7496 W. Indiana 124, in Wabash.

The cost is $5 per person, and memberships will be available at the site. They are $25 for an individual, $40 for a family and $15 for seniors and students. A limited amount of syrup may be available for sale.  

Wildlife damage is generally expected by maple syrup producers. This year there appears to be a cyclical abundance of squirrels tied to a good year for acorns, producers in New England told The Associated Press.

“It definitely is a thing in nature that the squirrels go to the trees themselves and chew off the buds to get at the sap,” Arnold said, “so I guess it makes sense that they would be chewing into the tubing that is used to collect the sap.

“The trouble is, it's the same sap we want.”

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