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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Mountain West states could soon tap into a new industry: maple syrup

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News Brief

Maple syrup usually makes people think about the northeast or Canada, but it can come from our own backyards.

Montana MapleWorks in Missoula already does this with four kinds of local trees, including boxelder, silver, sugar and Norway maple trees.

"I use it as a community platform," said David Knudson, who runs that business. "I'm creating a culture and teaching people a new type of foraging."

Knudson says planting syrup-producing trees could even help farmers who want extra income as well as windbreaks.

"Trees could serve multiple purposes,” he said.

Knudson is part of the group that recently got $500,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funds to help build the industry in our region. That group includes New Mexico State University, Utah State University and Stokes Nature Center in Logan, Utah.

Tapping Trees for Syrup in the West

Part of the reason they want to build an industry here is that it’s faltering elsewhere.

“You know with climate change, I think the whole industry’s going to be affected in the near future,” said Youping Sun, an assistant professor of landscape horticulture at Utah State University.

A short, warm spring forced Canada to dip into its national syrup reserves last year to make up for a shortfall.

Sun said there are programs also looking into producing maple syrup in other regions of the U.S., like the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, "but they (didn't) have any other project in the Intermountain West until this opportunity."

So now, this group of academics and businesses will lead both research and outreach in the region. That includes researching which tree species in the Mountain West provide the best syrup, and when people should tap them.

They’re also providing workshops and working with landowners to teach people how to tap trees. Upcoming workshops on tapping trees in the West can be found here. They’re only in Utah for the rest of this year, but they expect to do more in the next few years.

However, for those who are enthusiastic about tapping trees, make sure you know who owns those trees and you get permission. When he started out, Knudson decided to tap trees near his home in Missoula, and he said, "I tapped the city trees, and so they had a conniption fit a little bit."

So now he seeks out privately-owned trees, and makes sure they're healthy and not over-tapped.

If you’re a Mountain West landowner who wants to participate in this project, you can reach out to researchers Rolston St. Hilaire at rsthilai@nmsu.edu or 575-646-5280 or Youping Sun at youping.sun@usu.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.