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Maple syrup industry sounds alarm over new Quebec lumber policy

Quebec produces 72% of the world's supply of maple syrup.
Click to play video: 'Maple syrup industry sounds alarm over new Quebec lumber policy' Maple syrup industry sounds alarm over new Quebec lumber policy
WATCH: Quebec’s maple syrup producers say they’re concerned by the language of the provincial government’s new “National Wood Production Strategy”, which they say prioritizes expanding the lumber industry at their expense. Benson Cook reports – Dec 20, 2020

Quebec’s maple syrup producers say they’re concerned by the language of the provincial government’s new “National Wood Production Strategy”, which they say prioritizes expanding the lumber industry at their expense.

The new policy, unveiled late last week, aims to double the output of lumber producers in the province by 2080, mostly by expanding their footprint in the vast forests stretching across the province’s north, situated predominantly on land owned by the government.

But the organization representing maple syrup producers, the Producteurs et productrices acéricoles du Québec (PPAQ), say that growth cannot be undertaken without encroaching on their industry’s ability to grow.

The PPAQ’s executive director Simon Trépanier told Global News that his organization’s principal concern is the extent to which it relies on the lumber industry growing in forests on crown land.

Around half of maple syrup producers in the province are based on crown land, Trépanier explained, and “about 45-50 per cent of untapped lands are on crown land in Quebec.”

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He says the government’s strategy for the management of those public forests doesn’t allocate enough trees for sap tapping.

Read more: Maple syrup claim creates sticky dispute between New Brunswick, Ontario 

“We are not keeping enough taps per hectacre, so it means on the long-term we’re going to have to wait many, many years to install new taps in those areas,” he said.

Trépanier said it’s disappointing the province’s fifty-page document outlining their strategy to grow the lumber industry included no language at all on maple syrup producers, since the industry in Quebec represents hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Sucrerie de la Montagne founder Pierre Faucher told Global News that when a tree is felled for wood and a new one gets planted to replace it, it can’t be tapped for maple syrup production right away.

“It takes 35-50 years until we tap a tree, and so we want to save the forest,” Faucher explained.

Faucher’s cabane a sucre usually relies on tourists from near and far coming to taste the syrup he makes from the maple trees surrounding his Rigaud, Que. based operation. The COVID-19 pandemic forced most of his operations during the peak spring season offline.

However, the year has been a decidedly better one for large commercial maple syrup producers, who make their money in grocery-store aisles and not destination dining rooms: Quebec’s exports of maple syrup increased this year.

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In a year when health is on everyone’s minds, there could be at least one reason for that: “The content of maple syrup, for your health, is a lot better than sugar,” Faucher said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Sugar Shack owner left devastated by season’s early finish

But the industry is worried that its growth could be in jeopardy, especially in the long-term, if it loses out on the ability to sufficiently expand its operations. Quebec produces 72 per cent of the world’s supply of maple syrup, but if it can’t grow its footprint in the province’s forests to keep up with demand, Trépanier expressed concern it could create an opening for its fiercest competitors, neighbouring Vermont and New Hampshire, to catch up.

Pierre Dufour, Quebec’s forestry minister, was not available for an interview, but in a statement, his office said the National Wood Production Strategy doesn’t include a plan for maple syrup production because it’s included in other policies instead.

“Other forest or wealth-creating resources from forests are not set aside since they are taken into account in the framework of the Sustainable Forest Management Strategy,” the statement reads. “Maple syrup production is an important economic activity in Quebec. Moreover, the Sustainable Forest Management Strategy has a specific objective with regard to maple syrup production, namely ‘to support the development of maple syrup production’.”

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The organization representing the province’s lumber industry, the Conseil de l’industrie forestière du Québec, could not be reached for comment.

Maple syrup producers say they just want to be included as the government plots a strategy to sustainably develop crown lands, so they can all keep growing together.

“When government is planning on that strategy, they have to deal with all the people who are taking care of the forest and are using crown-land forest,” Trépanier said.

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