Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Maple sap debate coming to a boil

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/5/18

ELY – Based on concerns expressed by the Ely Tree Board about the health of Ely’s remaining silver maple trees, the City Council will consider taking action later this month to slow the flow of …

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Maple sap debate coming to a boil

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ELY – Based on concerns expressed by the Ely Tree Board about the health of Ely’s remaining silver maple trees, the City Council will consider taking action later this month to slow the flow of maple sap tapping or to ban the tradition all together.

Mayor Chuck Novak asked City Council members Tuesday night to authorize a public hearing on the issue. The hearing will be held on Tuesday, April 24, prior to the council’s study session.

He asked the council how they want to proceed to address the issue. “Do you want to proceed without a hearing? Do you want to move forward with a ban or do you want to set up an ordinance?” he asked. “Let the public weigh in on it, that was my thought. Let’s hear from the folks and let the people speak to us.”

The Tree Board is developing the city’s Tree Plan and is considering including language that bars all tapping of trees currently being planted and those that will be planted in the future.

“Tapping is not advised on stressed trees even in more natural settings, and the boulevards provide a continually stressed condition,” the Tree Board said. “We are concerned also that the energy that a tree requires to heal from tapping is energy taken away from other activities those stressed need to perform to survive.”

“While we prefer that community members refrain from tapping our older silver maples, banning the tapping of the older trees would likely be contentious and does not seem worth acting on, given that the trees are near the ends of their lives,” the Tree Board said. “Education in the present and not allowing tapping in the future is the best way to proceed.”

The issue came to the attention of the City Council after dozens of maple trees around town were recently tapped with similar brackets, hoes and blue plastic bags.

In comments last month, Novak defended what he referred to as the “maple syrup gang,” several local citizens who have been tapping the city’s trees for years. “It has been kind of a ritual with them. This year it is different. All of a sudden we have metal brackets and blue bags all over town,” he said.

According to Novak, who said he discussed the issue with one of the locals, the influx of tappers is from out of town, and he said they could be selling the maple syrup commercially. “I asked the Police Department to find out who these people are with the blue-bagged taps and where they are from. If they are doing this commercially, they have to have a Department of Health license, and be registered as a business. My personal perspective is this is theft of city property,” Novak said.

The “blue bag tree tappers” came forward this week to be heard. Natasha Brekke, whose family lives in Morse Township just outside of town on Johnson Creek Drive, addressed the council in open forum Tuesday night.

“We have the blue bags in town, and I would like to let you know that we are just two Ely families out collecting maple (sap) with our families. Between the two families we have seven children age six and under,” Brekke said. “We have been doing this for years and this is a four-generation tradition in our family and the equipment we use is inherited equipment.”

She said they are not an out-of-town commercial operation, as was reported. “We share our maple syrup with our friends and family,” she said. “In fact, it is a really fun activity when we boil down our syrup. We have cookies and coffee at our sugar shack and neighbors stop by. It is important for us that our children learn how to properly tap maple trees.”

Novak invited Brekke to attend the public hearing at the end of the month. He reiterated that the family lives outside the city limits. Last month he suggested the city issue permits to tap maple trees on city property. “The permit would be waived for local citizens,” he said. “It would be $2,000 for those who don’t live here.”

The public hearing begins at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday April 24 in the council chambers.

Other business

In other business, the council took the following action:

Approved the City Council and city staff to attend Broadband Day on the Hill on April 17;

Approved the City Council and staff to attend the Smile, You’re in Ely event on April 12;

Voted to authorize mortgage satisfactions for Sarah L. Burger and Donald S. Beans and Joan Kjorsvig-Beans;

Postponed action on appointments to the Charter Commission;

Approved a residential rehab loan of $10,000 for Scott Mills and Wende Nelson to replace a water line to their property on Yukon Drive;

Approved a residential rehab loan of $10,000 for William and Helen Cusack to put a new roof on their Washington Street home;

Approved the request from Gardner Humanities Trust for in-kind services to help install the Freenote Harmony Park in Whiteside Park.

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