Dr. Mike Rechlin, Lead Researcher for the Appalachian Program at
Future Generations University

Go West Old Man

How can Appalachian tree syrup research help maple syrup production in the Pacific Northwest?

Despite their geographical separation and distinct species compositions, the forests of Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest share significant similarities in terms of biodiversity, ecological roles, climatic conditions, cultural importance, and conservation challenges. Both regions exemplify the beauty and complexity of North America’s forest ecosystems and highlight the need for ongoing conservation efforts to protect these vital natural resources.

Eric Jones( left), Oregon State University, with newly elected officers of the
Oregon Maple Syrup Producers Association (second from left to right) Dan
Caldwell, Connie Olsen, Dean Olsen and Joe McGilvra.

Dr. Mike Rechlin has researched Appalachian forests for decades, specifically focusing on maple and tree syrup production. This research and its findings have applications outside of Appalachia and as a result, as Dr. Rechlin puts it, he was told to “Go West Old Man,” attributing a famous nineteenth-century saying about eastern newspaperman Horace Greeley.

Acer macrophyllum – Now that’s a BIG Leaf.

Dr. Rechlin did just that. Mike was invited to participate in the 2024 annual Pacific Northwest Big Leaf Maple Conference and Fair. Sponsored by The University of Washington and Oregon State University, the conference and accompanying Big Leaf Maple fair are designed to promote an awareness of tapping Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and to share knowledge and the technical skills needed to enter this new frontier in the maple syrup world successfully.

Eric Jones (Oregon State University) and Kent Wheiler (University of
Washington) facilitate research and the expansion of tapping in the Pacific

To support Big Leaf tapping in the Pacific Northwest Mike was asked to share his experiences in the development of the maple syrup industry in Appalachia. He described the evolution of the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association (WVMSPA) and how the Association supported industry growth in Appalachia.

Members of the Washington State Maple Syrup Producers Association
leadership Team. (left to right) Cory Davis, Daryl Dietrich, Patrick Shultz, Rich
Weiss, Neil McLeoud and Mark Butler.

The Pacific Northwest faces many of the same challenges as West Virginia and the Appalachian region. Like West Virginia, producers need to adopt Northeastern practices to their climatic and species-specific conditions. They need enhanced public awareness of Big Leaf Maple syrup, and syrup producers need advanced technical skills to increase sap and syrup production. All this has developed in Appalachia through ongoing collaboration between Future Generations University’s Appalachian Program and the WVMSPA.

Mike also gave a presentation on how research being conducted by FGU is helping adapt Appalachian sap and syrup production practices to a changing climate. West Virginia is at the forefront of climate change. Washington and Oregon are already there. What we are learning about microbial growth in sap collection lines is important to the growth of the syrup industry in Appalachia. It is essential to the development of the industry in the Pacific Northwest. Mike ended his presentation by letting the audience know that the presentation had no ending. Instead, the presentation was the beginning of a dialogue that needed to continue as maple syrup producers in both regions had to work together and learn from each other.

For more information about maple syrup production, responses to climate change in the sugarbush, and other topics mentioned, please visit the Nature-based YouTube channel or email syrup@future.edu.

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