Saturday, February 11, 2017

Tree Planter Training 01 - Introduction

Although this blog is predominantly focused on my music and DJ’ing career, I also want to share some information about my other career:  Canadian Reforestation.

The information in this post is part of a training series from the website.  More information can be found at this link:

I’ll put the text and audio download link from this training module below, but let’s start with the YouTube video for the module:

Section 01 - “Introduction to the Industry”

Hi, my name is Jonathan Clark.  Within Canada’s reforestation industry, I’m commonly just known as “Scooter.”  I’ve worked in the industry for a number of years.  I’ve planted for about fifteen different companies in BC, I’ve been a foreman at five companies, and I’ve been a camp supervisor at three.  So hopefully, I can give you some good background perspective as I try to teach you about some of the tree planting information that you’ll want to know as a first-time planter, or as a prospective planter.

The point of this training information is to give you as much background about BC’s reforestation industry as possible - training that you can start to absorb before you hit the field.  Tree planting is a very unique industry.  Tree planters usually get paid per tree planted, not by an hourly wage.  Every minute that you spend planting puts more money in your bank account.  Every piece of information that gives you a better understanding of the industry will ultimately help you become a better overall planter, and again, that means more money for you.  It’s a big benefit for you to start learning this information before your season starts.

You may be reluctant to invest time into learning about planting before your first day of work.  However, making this effort before the season starts, rather than starting the learning process when you arrive on your first block, has been shown so far to increase the average earnings of a first-year planter by well over a thousand dollars for the season.  This is partly because you’ll be a smarter and therefore faster planter.  Even more importantly, pre-season learning appears to significantly reduce attrition rates during the season.  If you’re going to quit, it’s better for both you and your company if you make that decision well before you show up for work.  Traditionally, perhaps over a quarter of new planters have quit within their first four weeks on the job.  That’s terrible.  If you quit after you start your job, you’ll have cost yourself a lot of time, money, and frustration.  Your company also loses because it has an empty seat in one of the trucks for the remainder of the season.  Know what you’re getting yourself into.  If you’re going to be a successful planter, you need to be 100% certain that you won’t quit once the season starts, and that means gaining a full understanding of what the job is all about before the season starts.

This training series covers approximately twenty broad topics, and to be honest, the amount of information is somewhat overwhelming.  Some of this information is not even directly related to the technical process of planting a seedling.  However, having a broad knowledge of the industry, and more specifically, of why things are done the way they are, helps you make faster and smarter decisions when you’re planting.  Going through all this information will take some time, but ultimately, it will mean a lot more money in your bank account.  Every minute that you invest in learning this information is worth it.

I suggest that you don’t try to absorb everything at once.  The first eight sections should be reviewed a month or two before your season begins, to give you a broad overview of the industry.  These sections are the ones that will help you decide if committing to a job as a tree planter is a wise personal decision.  It should take you just over three hours to review all eight of these sections properly.  You should also spend a few additional evenings looking through photos, videos, and online forums, to enhance your understanding of the industry.

The last twelve training sections should be studied only a day or two before you start work, so they’re fresh in your mind when you get onto your first block.  These are the sections that give you specific information about planting standards and techniques.  You'll probably want to set aside about four more hours to go through these sections if you’re watching the videos or listening to the audio.  If you’re a fast learner, you can probably go through the material more quickly in text form.

Once a date has been established for the start of your season, you'll probably be expected to arrive a couple days early.  You and all the other first-time planters will probably meet somewhere for a full day of classroom orientation.  Your classroom guide will be a foreman or experienced trainer.  The following day, your group will probably head out early in the morning to pick up your planting gear and spend a day in the field, practicing the exact steps required to plant a tree properly.

After your classroom training day and your field training day, you'll probably meet the rest of your camp.  Everybody will go to the camp location together, you’ll sign your employment contracts, and you’ll officially start work the following day.

A History of BC’s Tree Planting Industry

Trees have been planted in Canada for more than a century, but it has only been in the past couple of decades that planting started to take place on anything resembling today’s scale.  In the early 1900’s, reforestation efforts were minimal.  The forests seemed to stretch endlessly, and widespread professional opinion seemed to be that tree planting was largely uneconomic.

The first plantations in British Columbia were established in about 1930, and it wasn’t until 1941 that the cumulative planting totals surpassed ten million trees.  In a 1956 royal commission report, Gordon Sloan found that the seven million trees planted on the coast in 1955 were totally inadequate.  Furthermore, almost all of the trees planted were a single species, Douglas Fir.  He suggested an annual planting program of 38.4 million seedlings to meet then-current reforestation needs, as well as to reclaim the backlog NSR (not sufficiently reforested) land on the coast.  However, Sloan’s recommended program never took place, and by the mid-1960’s, planting had increased to only about eighteen million trees annually for the entire province.

In 1965, a more specific target was adopted.  It was estimated that one third of the acreage logged would require planting, which at that time implied a need for seventy-five million seedlings annually.  The rallying cry became “75 by 75”, referring to a target of seventy-five million seedlings to be planted annually by 1975.  While this would theoretically take care of current reforestation, it didn’t address the NSR backlog.

The industry grew, and came close to the target with 62 million seedlings planted in 1975.  In the meantime, however, the goal posts had changed.  More area was being harvested annually, and the backlog was still present.  In his 1976 Royal Commission report, Dr. Peter Pearse noted, “Professional foresters have expressed much concern in recent years about the backlog of unstocked lands.”  He reported the total NSR in the province to be 3.9 million hectares, of which about ten percent was estimated to be backlog NSR on good and medium sites.  Pearse did not propose a specific program, other than to state that, “... provisions must be made to ensure the establishment of new crops on lands denuded by logging or fire.”

The first program to include funds to specifically tackle the backlog NSR was a $50 million joint federal/provincial funding agreement that ran from 1979 to 1984.  However, because there was insufficient funding for basic silviculture, the NSR backlog continued to grow as additions outpaced reductions.  By 1980, the environmental movement was gaining momentum, and the reforestation issue was becoming commonly reported in the news media.  In 1980, there were at least ten major articles related to this matter in the Vancouver and Toronto newspapers.  However, public concern seemed to diminish when the severe recession of the early 1980’s took control of the headlines.  The fact that the backlog continued to grow was confirmed in a 1984 Forest and Range Resource Analysis carried out by the Ministry of Forests.

By the end of the decade, public concern returned to a very high level.  In a 1989 poll, 82% of British Columbians responded that too few trees were being planted.  In a 1991 poll, sixteen percent of those sampled on an ‘unaided’ basis stated reforestation to be the forest management issue of greatest concern, second only to the issue of clear-cutting.  While not necessarily a critical issue on which the election was decided, reforestation was a key topic in the election platforms during the 1991 provincial election.  Subsequent to that, the industry soon saw significant growth in reforestation efforts.

Public opinion began to change.  Poll results in 1994 indicated that only seven percent of British Columbians felt reforestation to be the most important environmental issue in the province at the time.  Clearly, there have been dramatic changes in public opinion regarding reforestation over the years.  Of course, problems with Mountain Pine Beetle infestations in recent years have caused renewed concern about the health of BC’s forests.  Although critics of tree planting have found numerous problems with reforestation practices, such as inappropriate monoculture stocking and inappropriate species selection, the regulations and practices of planting continue to evolve as forest administrators and scientists gather new information about what works and what doesn’t.  The processes of growing trees in nurseries, planting the seedlings, and following up with proper post-planting maintenance have constantly evolved and improved.  Of course, this sometimes makes our job as planters more challenging.  On a positive note, the matter of inadequate reforestation in British Columbia seems to be less of an issue than it was a few decades ago.

The Modern BC Tree Planting Industry

Most of you will work at larger companies, predominantly based in the northern part of BC - from Williams Lake up to Prince George, and west towards Houston and Smithers.  There are a few dozen large planting companies in this part of the province, and probably 80-90% of the first-year planters are employed by this group of companies.  The size of most of these companies ranges from maybe 40 to 200 planters.  Most of them use bush camps to accommodate planters.  Although they're based in northern BC, they also do a bit of work further south, and sometimes even work to the east, and into Alberta.

There are also several dozen companies based in southern BC, and on Vancouver Island.  The majority of these companies are smaller, often ranging from only ten to fifty employees.  Because they're smaller, they don’t hire a lot of first-year planters.  Most of them don't run camp-based operations, and instead, they work out of motels, or in some cases, they only hire planters who actually live in the areas where the work is done.  The work done by the southern and coastal companies is usually more technically demanding, both in terms of the difficulty of the blocks, and in terms of quality expectations.  Prices per tree are usually significantly higher than in the north, but this is balanced out by the fact that the work is more difficult, and planters can plant far fewer trees in a day.  Remember this: higher prices don't necessarily translate into higher earnings!  To understand your earnings potential, you must also take the difficulty of the block into context with the tree prices.  Living expenses are also higher when working out of motels, because you need to pay for your share of the motel room, and also provide for your own food.  Due to the fact that the work done by these southern and coastal companies is more technically demanding, most of them only hire planters with several seasons of prior experience.

I'll be referring to the “Canadian” reforestation industry quite frequently.  Be aware that this series focuses specifically on reforestation training within the province of British Columbia.  However, many of BC’s reforestation workers come from other provinces, and many tree planters work in multiple provinces within any given calendar year.  Also, BC’s reforestation industry is the most organized within Canada, and various aspects of the industry in BC serve as a model for practices in other provinces.  So even though this training series was developed in British Columbia, for BC planters, portions are applicable across the entire country.  Just remember that a lot of the BC provincial regulations don't apply when you're working in other provinces.

I'll likely use terms in some of these tutorials that don’t make sense to a first-year planter.  A full-fledged dictionary of planting terms would include hundreds of words and definitions, and you can find such a dictionary of definitions online.  I'd suggest that you look for one, and read through it.  In the meantime, if you find a word in one of these tutorials that you don’t understand, write it down and ask your classroom instructor what it means, or check with an online planting dictionary.

I'm going to refer to the term “silviculture” quite often.  Silviculture is the branch of forestry that deals with establishing, caring for, and reproducing stands of trees for a variety of forest uses including wildlife habitat, timber production, and outdoor recreation. 

We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s move right on to the next section …


Here’s an Audio version of this material, in case you want to listen while you’re driving, running, at work, or otherwise unable to read or watch video:

Click on the down-arrow icon in the upper right corner of the SoundCloud widget to download the mp3.

Once again, for further information about this series of tree planter training information, visit:

I encourage you to share this information with anyone else who might be interested.  Thanks for your interest and support!

-          Jonathan “Scooter” Clark