2008 Ice Storm Coats Sugar Maple Bush

by Tig Tillinghast

We got off easy, but I hear folks down south didn’t fare so well. This picture (below) shows the rime of ice covering all the twigs and branches of the lower part of our sugar maple forest in Strafford, Vermont in December 08. This picture is at about 800 feet of elevation. We got lucky because we got a warming thaw before wind could kick up and cause havoc. Down south, I heard reports of folks in Massachusetts losing most of the tops off of some of their trees.

Last year we had another close call, with a lot of ice, but less damage that one might expect. Perhaps we do so well in ice storms because this bush was really snockered back in the 1998 ice storm, where whole groups of trees were wiped out. Having all of the more vulnerable trees knocked out of the system, maybe this bush is just a bit more resilient. That’s probably too optimistic a perspective. I’m going to stick with the idea that we were just lucky.

Many people who make maple syrup will not tap trees the next year or two if they’ve been damaged by ice storms. There are two theories about that: the cautious people think that tapping is just one more stress on over-stressed trees. The other people figure that there is so much stress from crack wounds after an ice storm, that taking what you can get via the tap is an insignificant addition. I count myself among the more cautious people.

The ice storms in 07 and 08 brought home to me the benefit of having a split bush – that is a maple forest that sits in two different places. While very inconvenient for sap transport, this diversity does allow a maple syrup operation to hedge some in terms of weather disasters. This allows us to think about major equipment purchases without the worry that some years we’ll have zero revenue.

We had quite a set of snow storms a couple weeks before Christmas 08. I heard we had 32 inches after having practically no snow at all this fall and winter so far. It certainly seemed that deep. Here is a picture (above) of the woodshed with the snow. That big rock on the right was just at my sternum level when I set it there, so that snow would be easily past my knees.