What if New England's maples up and took a walk? Got sick of pie festivals and peepers? Who could blame 'em? Indeed, forest "migration" north as the climate gets too warm is already upon us. Since 1971, winter temperatures in the Northeast have risen 2.8 degrees, and if current trends continue, our indigenous American maples may, by 2100, all have crossed the border into Canada. Vermont will feel like Virginia, and the Chesapeake Bay will become the Everglades. Will the sheep get too hot for making wool and cheese?

It's hard enough to be a tree, in the best of times. Between 1700, when Native Americans taught the colonists how to make maple sugar, to 1980, when widespread alarm arose about acid rain from the burning of fossil fuels, the world lost a fifth of its forests. And so it continues to go, at an annual loss of $2-5 trillion. In Vermont, the value of maple syrup production was $13.3 million, and the trees' fall foliage is a mainstay of the state's $1.5 billion tourist industry. But an EU study, led by a Deutsch bank economist, also monetizes services provided by forests, such as preventing soil erosion and storm runoff, protecting water quality, and, of course, inhaling and neutralizing CO2, while oxygenating our air.

Maples are heroic trees: They continue to provide over-the-top displays of yellow and fuchsia, and sweet syrup, even as they suffer the blows of pollution, disease and climate change. Time to spare the trees for our own sakes. If only we could look so radiant under stress!

This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2008.


Copyright Environ Press 2008

Fall foliage threatened by global warming
New England's maple trees stand heroic, even as they suffer environmental stress.