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Bird Conservation comes to Maine’s Maple Sugarbushes

March is arguably the sweetest month of the year. All throughout Maine, sugarmakers are busy boiling maple sap into syrup. The same forests that make Maine one of the top three maple producing states also support some of the highest diversity of nesting birds in the country. In an effort to bring together Maine’s maple industry with bird conservation, Maine Audubon has partnered with Audubon Vermont, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and the Maine Maple Producers Association to bring the Bird-Friendly Maple program to the Pine Tree State.

Developed in 2014 by Audubon Vermont, in partnership with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and the Vermont Maple Sugar Maker’s Association, Bird-Friendly Maple promotes forest management that includes consideration of bird habitat for species such as Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Wood Thrush. In recognition of these intentional efforts, participating maple producers are provided with unique product labeling, signage, and other materials to educate consumers.

A pilot program began last year in Maine, and when Suzanne and Brian Dunham of Dunham Farm and Velvet Hollow Sugar Works, in Greenwood, heard about the opportunity, they were immediately interested. “We are avid birders, and we understand the stress birds are experiencing now with habitat loss and degradation, so we believe that providing a refuge for them and other wildlife is crucial. Maine is part of an important flyway for migrating birds, we take that distinction seriously. And we have space, we own a good-sized parcel of land with good bird habitats—for nesting as well as plants and insects that birds like to eat. We hope that others will consider being part of this program.”

Steve Hagenbuch, Senior Conservation Biologist and Forester with Audubon Vermont, and creator of the Bird-Friendly Maple program, visited Dunham Farm last summer and worked to enroll them in the program. As a result, the Dunhams became the first Maine maple producers formally recognized as managing their sugarbush with birds in mind through the program.

Dunham Farm, 29 Dunham Road in Greenwood, will be open for Maine Maple Sunday Weekend, March 25 and 26, for tours, guided snowshoe walks, pancake breakfasts, and more. Sugar House demonstrations take place between 8 am and 4 pm.

According to Director of Conservation at Maine Audubon, Sally Stockwell, “We are thrilled to be able to bring the Bird-Friendly Maple program from Vermont to Maine to help both maple producers and birds that depend on sugarbushes for their livelihood.  Maine forests are the ‘baby bird factory’ for over 90 species of birds, but they need high quality breeding habitat to successfully nest and raise their young.  This program will help enhance breeding habitat for many bird species that are currently struggling and showing dramatic population declines across their ranges.”

Maine Audubon is excited to launch this program along with the Dunhams, and looks forward to partnering with other maple producers in the future.  Scott Dunn, board member of the Maine Maple Producers Association, says “Bringing Bird Friendly Maple to the state of Maine is another step forward for our producers. Managing their wood lots for the harvesting of sap but also caring for the animals that live in them go hand in hand.”