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A mono-specific sugarbush

March 15th,2023 | Valley Voices

By Denise Markhame

Mono-specific sugarbush is the designation given to a sugar bush that is devoid of companion species; so, a mono-culture environment. I learned this term from the Ministere de l’Agriculture, des Pecheries et de l’Alimentation du Quebec (MAPAQ) agent that I consulted with, following-up on a question that arose during a tree program at the Wakefield community centre.

On their website, the government of Quebec has provided the public with explicit, easily-digestible guidelines for a healthy sugar bush. To sum it up — mono-culture bad!

Consider how the title and the connotation apply to other mono-agriculture: wheat, corn, soy and dairy; today’s most common food allergens. These common staples used in most packaged foods are prime examples of mono-agriculture; dairy is included because large commercial herds are fed from mono-culture products. The result of growing mono-culture foods is devastation to the soil itself, losing its nutritional value and the resilience that a natural ecosystem would provide. And the bare field is devastating to the environment, as carbon is allowed to escape into the atmosphere, exacerbating our climate crisis. The necessity of a diverse ecosystem should be as obvious in the sugar bush as it is in the fields.

David Lapointe, a forest engineer for MAPAQ, is the author of an essay on the sugar bush that draws its conclusions from a study that spans from 1940 to 2018. His presentation advises at least 15 to 30 per cent ratio of companion species in the maple bush; from at least three different botanic genera. His ratio suggestion would be even greater, he told me, if not for the viability of a return on one’s acreage. His suggested companion species include: yellow birch, with its valuable pH balance; the basswood, whose leaf-litter nourishes the soil and whose abundance of nectar attracts bees and other insects. His list includes hemlock, birch, poplar and oak, etc. Evergreens attract beneficial fauna and micro-fauna.

A diversity of species in your maple stand ensures a greater resilience in the case of irregularities. It nourishes and reduces stress on the ecosystem; helps the system to self-regulate its nutritional cycle, temperature, etc. For instance, different species draw energy from the soil at different layers and from different times, he reports.

Species with differing root system functions, nitrogen fixers and those whose canopy provides shade where needed, or allow light where needed, all have a part to play. The extensive report is outlined in David Lapointe’s brilliant article entitled, “L’érable et son environnement : ce que la science nous apprend,” available at mapaq.gouv.qc.ca.

This year, a parcel of the former Claude Laplante’s Sugarbush has been tapped by a new generation of Laplante’s, in a diverse forest. Et la tradition perdure (lives-on).

Denise Markhame is a resident of Val Des Monts.

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