The maple syrup industry enjoys a great reputation as a natural, down-home business. City folks feel good that the syrup and candies they purchase are not even a full step removed from Mother Nature.

There is pride among producers, too, about keeping their land in tune with the best environmental practices.

Sugar bushes looking to extend their profile as an integral part of the environmentally responsible, back-to-the-land movement can gain some great ideas from the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP).

While not aimed specifically at sugar bushes, the ACSP is a program that highlights ways to keep a woodlands property in harmony with its surroundings.

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For private landowners, the certification program most applicable would be the ACSP. Members of the ACSP are mostly organizations and businesses, but private landowners also can apply.

Even a maple producer who does not want to check off each step through the process can emulate best practices and do as much as possible to bring their property in line with the program.

Golf courses are the biggest single group now participating in the programs run by Audubon International, headquartered in Troy, New York. The odds are good that if you play golf, you have been on an upscale course that trumpets its participation in the Audubon program. Golf courses boast many of the same features present on a farm: There are open areas, wooded areas, ponds and streams. The Audubon International program helps with the development and continuing management of a property.

After joining the program, the first step is for the landowner to take stock of environmental resources and areas to improve, according to Daron Blake, program specialist with Audubon International. Then, she said, the sugar bush would develop an environmental management plan that fits the unique setting, goals, staff, budget and time. Audubon International provides a Site Assessment and Environmental Planning Form to provide guidance, as well as educational information to help with the following:

  • Outreach and education
  • Resource management
  • Water quality and conservation
  • Wildlife and habitat management

Based on the site assessment, Audubon provides a site-specific report and works with the landowner to implement their plan. By implementing and documenting environmental management practices in these areas, a member is eligible for designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, improving its stature and reputation.

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Among the program’s focuses is a best practices chapter for chemical management to reduce exposure and liability risks associated with storing, handling and applying chemicals.

Written and photographic documentation is required to achieve certification. If required information is missing or management practices are not in place, Audubon International places a “pending” status on the certification request. This enables the member to provide the needed documentation or further develop its management strategies. There is a $275 fee to sign up. However, first-timers should request the $100 discount available to them.

On-site verification by a qualified third party is required prior to certification. The whole ACSP process is not a slam-dunk; it can take a landowner anywhere from one to three years to complete.

But even then the process is not finished. Recertification is required every three years to ensure that members continue to uphold certification standards. Members that do not submit the appropriate documentation or are no longer meeting program requirements are decertified.

Since so many maple sugaring operations encourage the public to visit and do so much work with clubs and schools on the educational side of the business, they also may be interested in the Audubon Partners for the Environment Program (APEP). It encourages members to engage with schools in short-term projects that protect and enhance the land, water, wildlife and other natural resources around them.

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APEP projects focus on five areas, all of which are found on the typical sugar bush: wildlife, water, outreach and education, eco-efficiency and community awareness.

All projects are designed to be fun and engaging, and range from beginner to more advanced. For instance, some program members put up nest boxes for birds. Others plant gardens for wildlife or clean up streams.

It does not hurt that each of those school kids goes home and talks to parents and grandparents, who hear a positive message about agriculture and sugaring.

APEP members commit to completing at least one environmental improvement project each year and report their results to Audubon International.

For each completed project program members receive an award to recognize their efforts to foster environmental awareness and good stewardship. The fee to join APEP is $50 annually.

While not directly related to the maple syrup industry, a landowner or farmer who runs a bed and breakfast, for instance, may be interested in Audubon International’s Green Lodging program, Blake said.

Participants complete a form that is easy to follow and includes a list of well-established “best environmental practices,” developed with industry and outside stakeholder input, letting a farm B&B evaluate where and how it uses eco-efficiency. The survey has four main sections: energy efficiency, resource conservation, pollution prevention and environmental management. Issues ranging from indoor air quality to water conservation to environmental policies and communication are covered. It takes about four hours to complete.

Sorting the groups

Audubon International is not to be confused with the National Audubon Society. Like other “Audubon” organizations, Audubon International takes its name from famed 19th-century naturalist and ornithologist John James Audubon.

In 1987, the Audubon Society of New York state was reborn from a New York group that had ceased meeting by the mid-1930s. Nearly five decades later, Ronald G. Dodson reinstated the charter as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit under a broader banner of environmental education and sustainable resource management. Audubon International is still incorporated as the Audubon Society of New York state but has no formal affiliation with the National Audubon Society or the 500-plus Audubon organizations worldwide.

Audubon International also enlists landowners and foresters to help support birds that depend on forested landscapes along the Atlantic Flyway, training them in bird-friendly forestry practices and promoting legislation that provides incentives for forest preservation.

In 2011, the program was pioneered by Audubon Vermont. To date, the program has trained 80 percent of Vermont’s foresters.

At that time, the Atlantic Flyway program’s guidelines were adopted by Vermont as an official reference for management plans used by landowners. There was a cash kicker. Participants could benefit from a tax incentive program for those who commit to keep their land in forest.

At the moment, that is collectively more than 1 million acres to date, Audubon Society estimates. Program details are available at http://www.auduboninternational.org.

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