There has always been a sensitive balance between outdoor recreation and nature preservation. While the two human endeavors are usually compatible, it is not always the case. Should hikers be allowed in sensitive ecosystems? Should snowmobiles be allowed in Yellowstone? Should hunting be allowed on lands managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service? Even though I taught outdoor recreation for over thirty years, my natural inclination is to favor preservation over recreation when the two come in conflict. Still I am wary when certain forms of recreation are unnecessarily banned in the name of environmental protection. 

For example, two of my friends tap maple trees each spring. One lives in the country and one in town. The country maple syruper owns a woodlot and has many more silver, red, and sugar maple trees than he can possibly use. The city dweller has only one big silver maple on his property, so he sometimes asks friends and neighbors whether he can drill a hole or two into a few of their trees.

Last week the city syrup maker went to a friend’s house to empty his sap buckets, when the friend came out of his house with a piece of paper in his hand. The paper was a cease and desist order from the City of La Crosse demanding the removal of all tapping equipment. The tapped maples at the friend’s house were between the sidewalk and the street, meaning that officially the trees belonged to the City and not the homeowner. According to the order, the taps were causing damage to City property. 

These are the same trees that, until recent years, were pelted with road salt every winter. These are the same trees that power company road crews decimate with chainsaws if their branches come near the utility wires. These are the same trees that, if they resided at a house using a lawn service, receive an application of herbicide at least twice a year. 

I understand the City’s desire to protect trees in the boulevard. La Crosse recently lost just about all of its ash trees to emerald ash borer, so the remaining maples, honey locusts, and basswoods have become especially valued. However, a couple of drill holes aren’t going to cause any permanent damage, and I suspect other motivations underlie the policy. Taps and plastic collection buckets are a little bit unsightly, and I am guessing that tapping trees is banned for the same reason that grazing goats in the front yard are not allowed. It violates someone’s standard as to what urban residential neighborhoods ought to look like. Traditional ways of connecting with nature should be encouraged, and the cease and desist order is bothering me more than it should.  

Steven Simpson