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Thursday
Feb122015

Marvelous Maple: Maple Syrup 101

Maple syrup is a staple for pancake, waffle, and French toast lovers, and it has long been associated with New England states such as Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. With spring approaching, sap will be running soon and syrup will grace plenty of New England’s tables. 

This substance is usually made from xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees. As trees store starch before winter, the starch converts to sugar. This sugar rises in the sap during the spring. Extraction requires boring a hole into the trunk of a maple tree and letting the sap seep out. The sap is then thickened by heat until some of the water content evaporates.

Grades of Maine Maple Syrup 

Maine's pure maple syrup grading was established by state legislature to officially regulate quality control. Ranks include:

  • Grade A Light Amber
  • Grade B Medium Amber
  • Grace A Dark Amber
  • Grade A Extra Dark Amber
  • Commercial Grade
  • Substandard

These levels have no density or thickness variations. Most variations are a matter of preference. The different grades are caused by the amount of bacteria that grew in the sap during collection and processing. This causes the color to darken and the flavor to become more pronounced. Sugars are processed by the microorganisms so the sap has more fructose and glucose than sucrose.

Why Maple is Important to Maine

Over 11% of the nation's maple syrup comes from Maine, and the USDA recognizes it is a culturally and economically important forest product within the state. It is one of the most commonly used non-timber forest products, with 395,000 gallons of syrup manufactured in 2009. Maine is the second-largest producer of syrup in the U.S.

Besides industry benefits, maple syrup has a long tradition in Maine. Over the course of hundreds of years, the cultivation of maple syrup has been perfected to a science. Producers take a lot of personal pride in their creations. Some Native Americans used maple syrup as an all-purpose seasoning, like salt. Festivals celebrate the sugar harvest, and maple syrup has become a hallmark of the state’s economic industry and culture.

 

Thursday
Feb052015

The Cat Came Back: Reports Indicate Cougars May Return to Maine

Cougars have not been found in the forests of Maine, Vermont, and other New England states for many years. According to a recent Press Herald article, the cats may soon return

Cougar Facts

Cougars are indigenous to areas dense in underbrush with some rocky landscapes. Also called mountain lions, these large cats hunt nocturnally by stalking their prey before pouncing. Their food of choice is typically large quadrupeds such as deer, sheep, cattle, and horses, but they occasionally eat insects or rodents.

These territorial felines live in solitude with their domain extent determined by food supply and ground cover. Although big, cougars are not always at the top of the food chain. Bears, wolves, and jaguars may be the apex predator in their region. Cougar hunting was rampant in the 1700s and before in North America. Since then, they have gradually returned into the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.

The Cougar’s Possible Return to Maine

Cougar sightings have not been officially corroborated in Maine for decades. Farmers, hikers, and others have claimed their presence for years, but animal tracking experts only recently discovered convincing evidence validating the possibility of a return. Others still doubt the sightings, claiming that proof has been wrongly interpreted and the likelihood of a self-propagating population is improbable.

In the last thirty years, cougars have made their way from South Dakota into Midwestern states, northward into Manitoba, Canada, and back towards the Northeastern USA. Zoologists say cougars are moving far out of their former territories. In 2011, a Connecticut driver killed a cougar that, according to DNA tests, was from South Dakota.

“It's a known fact that dispersing tom cougars will go hundreds, if not thousands of miles as they search for a habitat in which they can settle down in the company of females and call home,” says Sue Morse of Jericho Mountain State Park. She claims these animals would help the ecosystem of Maine forests that are overpopulated by deer.

Cougar sightings in Maine used to be unheard of, but Mark Scott, a wildlife specialist, says people should keep an eye out for their possible return. Others still suggest an immigration is improbable.

Friday
Jan302015

Paper With Pizzazz: Chemists Fabricate New Rewritable Paper

As our world shifts increasingly toward technology and portable machines such as tablets and smartphones, many people lament the loss of paper as a tool and commodity. They fear of what will happen if the world becomes paperless – will we lose paperback books? Will children get their educations from robots or talking heads on screens? Chemists in Riverside, California, understand these and other questions and are working to create a sustainable, technology-based rewritable paper.

What is Rewritable Paper?

Simply put, rewritable paper can be written on and erased several times without being used up. The paper works because of the color-switching properties in dyes called redox dyes. Redox dyes, some of which are forms of methylene blue, can be oxidized and reduced to their colorless forms. This provides rewritable paper’s imaging layer. The dye is then photo-bleached using ultraviolet light. The protons that actually form the text remain protected from the ultraviolet rays, allowing text to be erased and rewritten without wasting ink. Rewritable paper is essentially glass or plastic film whose texts can be erased with heat.

 Advantages of Rewritable Paper

Chemists like Yaodong Yin, the professor whose laboratory undertook the research, praise this paper for its environmental friendliness. Yin and other chemists point out that traditional paper is usually used one time before being thrown away, exacerbating problems such as deforestation, air pollution, and decreased waste management. Wasted ink and ink cartridges also contribute to these issues and add more pollutants to water and land as well as air. Society has known this for years, yet the waste continues because 90% of business is still done with paper and ink.

Yin predicts that the “attractive” rewritable paper, which comes in the colors methylene blue, neutral red, and acid green, will increase awareness of and attention to “sustainability and environmental conservation.” Since the paper’s foundation is glass or plastic rather than traditional paper, it is highly recyclable. Rewriting on the paper over and over will reduce wasted ink and cartridges, while heat provides an environmentally responsible way to erase text.

Is This Option Practical?

Critics may consider rewritable paper dangerous or unsustainable because of the ultraviolet rays involved and the need for so much heat energy. To effectively erase text, the paper must be heated to 115 degrees Celsius. In addition, critics may worry that the text will not be legible and the writing process will take too long. In a recent UCR Today article, Yin assured readers none of these concerns would be major. He points out that paper is already heated to 200 degrees Celsius in laser printers to help toner particles bond to the paper. He also assures readers the text on rewritable paper will remain legible for up to three days because of the way the text reacts with ambient oxygen.

Yaodong Yin and his fellow chemists are still working to come up with a final prototype for rewritable paper. They are currently exploring the possibilities of multicolor printing and using new nanoparticles as bonding agents.

 

 

Thursday
Jan152015

The Top 3 Environmental Benefits of Maine’s Forests

From a young age, we are taught that trees are beneficial to both our health and the environment’s well-being. Most people are aware that trees produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide for growth, but many don’t realize the wide-ranging impacts of this process. Below are some of the most important environmental benefits of forests for Maine's ecology and the wider global environment:

  • Forests are a renewable source of resources. Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the US Forest Service, believed forests had to be carefully maintained so they could produce the resources people needed without being destroyed faster than they could be replaced. The management of forests today is based largely on Pinchot's conservation ethics. If we manage them properly, the forests will continue to be able to provide us with resources. 
  • Forests provide habitat. Forests support a wide variety of animals, other plants, and fungi. Birds live in their canopy, squirrels and chipmunks make homes in their understory, deer, foxes, and caribou thrive on the forest floor, and millions of insects burrow within the tree and the soil below it. 
  • Forests are nutrient rich. Forests don't only produce oxygen, but are a huge part of the nitrogen, carbon, phosphorous, and water cycles. They help to filter the air itself, and their roots filter and stabilize much of the soil and water that runs through them. 

 

We have already seen the effects of a world without forests in some parts of the world, where ecological systems have collapsed. Forests For Maine's Future exists so that the private forests of Maine, one of the most heavily forested states in the United States, might be managed sustainably and with proper conservation ethics.

 


Thursday
Jan082015

Facs and Figures Regarding Maine's Forests

With more than 90 percent of Maine’s land covered by trees, it’s important to understand the true value of these beautiful forests. Maine is the most heavily forested state, measured by percentage, and is an ecologically important part of our country that must be protected. The following are a few facts and figures regarding the forests of Maine:

  • Maine's forests cover 17 million acres of land, mostly in the north of the state where population density is extremely low.
  • There are 39 commercial tree species found in Maine's forests.  Roughly 61 percent of these trees are hardwoods, mostly growing in the southern part of the state, while 39 percent are softwoods, dominating the northernmost reaches of the state.
  • 95 percent of Maine's forests are owned by rivate entities, with only 1 percent owned by the federal government.  Private landowners hold 33 percent of the land, while 61 percent belongs to private companies.
  • $1 out of every $16 coming into Maine is due to the forest products sector, which also supplies 1 out of every 20 jobs in the state.  The total economic impact of the Maine forest industry is estimated at $8 billion as of 2011.
  • The forest industry is Maine's top export and brings in $885 million, or roughly 30 percent of the state's exports.
  • Maine's forests can sustainably produce roughly 600 million cubic feet of wood each year, and currently has twice the standing volume of forests in in 1950.
  • Over half of Maine's wood production is used for fuel.  Roughly 30 percent is used for sawlogs, and the remaining 18 percent is processed for pulp and other purposes.

If you're interested in learning more about the forests of Maine and how they are being managed and protected, contact Forests For Maine's Future today.