It may have seemed like the green thing to do, and one would think such an organic concept would be welcomed in Missoula of all places.

But city officials are sending out a warning that "tree taping" of the city's extensive collection to get syrup is, in fact, illegal.

A handful of enterprising people had been trying their hand at "tree taping" in recent weeks, as evidenced by the blue bags which began appearing in some local neighborhoods.

rockstar radio/canva
rockstar radio/canva

However, this week the City of Missoula's Urban Forestry Division is sending out reminders that tapping into "city-owned" maple trees is illegal, and could even damage the trees. That repeats a warning sent out last year.

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Urban Forester Ben Carson explains that tapping an "already-stressed" maple tree along the street could actually create "entry points" for disease and decay, and deplete the tree's "natural energy reserves."

"As many people look toward local, sustainable food practices, it may be tempting to try syrup tapping the maples that line city streets," Carson said in a statement. "But tapping a street tree will drain the stored energy the tree has been saving to leaf out in the spring."

"Urban trees face a harsh growing environment including drought conditions, compacted soil, limited soil volume and porous soils. So it's critical we don't exert additional stresses on them." -Urban Forester Ben Carson


Missoula is already trying to manage tree damage

Tree damage has been a real concern for the city's urban forest over the past decade, as many of the maples planted more than a century ago have reached the end of their life spans. Many in the University District have had to be removed in recent years to keep the remaining trees healthy and for public safety.

Carson says tapping a healthy tree can be done safely to minimize damage. But he says tapping can create a "wound". He says the equipment designed to pull sap from a maple's vascular system makes a "convenient pathway for potential infection."

That tree may actually be public

Plus, there's a city ordinance prohibiting residents from "injuring or damaging trees" in the public right-of-way. Those right-of-ways can vary in width, and in some places, many public trees appear to be on private property. You can contact the Urban Forestry Decision with any questions, via email, or by calling 406-552-6253.

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