It was an emergency. The sap would soon be running from trees on approximately 18,000 acres of sugar maple orchards in Vermont and something had to be done about the red squirrel. It seems those pesky, little animals are fond of gnawing on the plastic pines that carry the sap from the tree taps to containers and beyond.

The Vermont Department of Agriculture was faced with the problem that there is "no pesticide registered [with the Environmental Protection Agency] for the control of red squirrels in maple orchards," according to a notice by EPA in the March 12, Federal Register (page 16324).

The state, however, declared a "crisis exemption" and reached for a pesticide normally barred from use on open land -- zinc phosphide-coated mouse bait.

The open-air baiting began in late January and "the emergency condition is expected to last until June 1, 1981," the notice says. The state "anticipates no adverse effects on man and the environment from this program and will monitor applications to be sure. . . ." Since Vermont has given assurances that the bait will not come in contact with the plastic pipes attached to the trees or the maple sap, the state's officials believe EPA does not need to set "an action level of tolerance" level for the maple syrup.