Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tree Planter Training 12 - Planning Reforestation Activities

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 12 - “The Planting Prescription”

In this section, we're going to learn some information that you'll hear which relates to the Planting Prescription.  You may never see a prescription on paper, but the forester will give you certain information, either directly or through your crew foreman, which guides your planting style by clarifying certain specifications.  Most of this information will be given to you at a meeting that's called a pre-work conference, and then you'll get additional feedback on the blocks as various people are checking the quality of your planted trees.

The Pre-Work Conference

At the start of a contract, the planters need to be told exactly what requirements and preferences are in effect for the current contract.  These requirements and preferences are usually referred to as the specs, which is short for specifications.  The forester will often hold a pre-work conference with the crew to outline the specs.  In some cases, the foresters prefer not to try to communicate this information with such a large group of people at one time, so instead they'll have a pre-contract meeting with the staff and management of the company, to go over the specs in detail with the camp supervisor, the foremen, and the quality checkers or tree runners.  The staff are then expected to have a subsequent meeting with the planters to pass on this information, and to ensure compliance with the client's expectations.  Part of your job as a planter is to pay attention to the planting requirements, and understand what is being asked of you.

The Silviculture Prescription & the Planting Prescription

The silviculture prescription and the planting prescription are not the same thing.  They are two separate site-specific plans.  The silviculture prescription is an overall document that describes the forest management objectives for an area.  It also covers the methods for harvesting the existing stand.  If you do a google search for "silviculture prescription guidebook bc" you'll find a detailed document produced by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, showing exactly what is included in a comprehensive Silviculture Prescription document.

The planting prescription is a specific part of the overall silviculture prescription plan that focuses on just the planting specs.  Some of the specs in this plan will relate to things such as screefing, obstacle planting, specific microsite requirements, density specs, quality specs, fertilization, browse protection, and more.  Let's look at these in more detail.

Screefing involves using your shovel or boot to remove unwanted surface material from the planting location.  Your instructor and your foremen will both demonstrate different ways to do this, and will monitor your screefing techniques to make sure you can get the minimum amount of work done quickly and efficiently with minimum risk of long-term damage to your body.  In general, boot screefing is faster and easier on your body.  Shovel screefing is harder on the arms and shoulders, but does a better job.  In tough grass mat, shovel screefing may be your only option.  Screefing is not required on all contracts, and the size and depth of screefing requirements can also vary.

Obstacle Planting involves making use of stumps, slash, or other obstacles to protect seedlings from damage from things like cattle or snow.

Microsite Selection is important to maximize the potential growth of a seedling.  You'll be expected to select microsites that minimize the impact of limiting factors and maximize seedling establishment and growth.  For example, in some regions, you might be asked to plant trees in the bottom of trenches, in order to take advantage of moisture in drought-prone areas.  In other regions, you might be asked to plant trees at the hinge or higher in trenches, to take advantage of higher temperatures.

Density Specifications vary from contract to contract, and sometimes from block to block.  For example, a forester might say that the spruce trees in one area have exhibited slightly higher mortality than pine in the past couple of years, so you might be told to plant spruce sections at a density of 1800 stems/Ha and pine sections at a density of 1600 stems/Ha.  We'll talk about Density in much more detail in another section.

Quality Specifications also vary significantly from contract to contract, although quality expectations are generally very consistent on all blocks within a single contract.  There's a common quality assessment system called the FS 704 system, which is in common use throughout much of British Columbia.  Within that system, there can be variations.  For example, on one contract, a forester may say that he/she would prefer to see all trees slightly deep, with pine trees a maximum of two fingers of dirt above the plug, and spruce trees even deeper with a maximum of four fingers of dirt above the plug.  We'll talk about Quality in much more detail in another section.

Potential Non-Planting Components

Some seedlings are fertilized at the time of planting by having a "tea bag" package full of fertilizer buried in the ground a few inches away from the seedling.  This happens especially where soil nutrients are limiting, or in areas where the cost to establish a seedling is so high that every possible growth advantage is worth the expense involved in providing the advantage.  Trees are not commonly fertilized in northern BC, but it happens more frequently in the southern Interior, and it's very common on the coast.  The best place for a tea-bag is usually about three inches from the seedling, ie. on the other side of the shovel hole, and buried just barely below the surface.  You cannot let the tea-bag drop down into the shovel hole.  You get paid extra for having to fertilize each tree.  First-year planters don't typically work on jobs where fertilizing is necessary.  Tea-bags are often called ferts.

Browse Protection involves putting up structures or equipment to protect planted seedlings from being eaten by animals.  Certain species, especially pine and cedar, are an appetizing snack for certain animals like deer and elk, and sometimes rabbits.  Planters may be asked to put up three or four foot high "cones" over a freshly planted tree, which are then attached to a stake driven into the ground beside the tree to hold them in place.  These cones are left in place for a few years until the tree has grown to the point where it's not very susceptible to damage anymore.  Coning isn't a common activity for first-year planters to be involved in, since it's most commonly done on the coast, or on technically challenging ground in the Southern Interior.  In those locations, the cost of planting a tree is so high that it's worthwhile to invest extra money in protecting the seedlings.  In the northern Interior, it's easier just to plant a higher density of trees and assume that a few will get eaten.

Block Boundaries

For a first-year planter, knowing where the planting area ends and the forest begins is sometimes rather difficult.  The exact boundaries can be pretty vague.  There won't be a fence or markers to guide you.  The boundary will almost never be a straight line.  It'll curve in and out, and you may have to interpret vague clues to determine if you've reached the end of the block yet.

There are problems if you can't identify the block boundary properly.  If you leave holes within a planting area, it increases the licensee's risk of non-compliance.  If you plant outside of the unit boundaries, where there's no responsibility and perhaps no permission to plant, you'll waste energy and money.  This is called a trespass.  This may have a negative impact on your company's reputation, and can sometimes lead to a fine for your company.

Your foreman or the forester will try to show you where the boundaries are located.  Pay close attention.  Often, there may be some sporadic symbols or markings to help guide the planters, such as old ribbon, paint, or rigid aluminum tags.  In some cases, the edges of the blocks are extremely clear and obvious, and planters don't need help trying to figure out where the block boundary is located.  In other cases, a forester will take the time to hang flagging tape every twenty feet or so, to help guide the planters.

Block boundaries often follow natural features such as roads, timber edges, and creeks.  Sometimes there's an adjacent piece that has also been cut but which is a different block, and it's very difficult to figure out the boundary.  In those cases, it's expected that someone should put up a flag line of ribbon to help the planters stay inside the correct boundaries.  Your foreman should have good map-reading skills, and will probably be using a GPS or a geo-referenced map on a mobile device, to help ensure that the crew understands the block boundaries.

Mixing Species

Species mixes are common as they provide diversity and some protection from environmental concerns including global warming.  They also help to protect against many forest health concerns including root rots, mistletoes, rusts, and beetles.  You'll need to bag up with the appropriate species mix and know the best microsites for each individual species.  For example, in wetter sites, spruce is more suitable than Douglas fir.

Professional planters with many years of experience doing coastal planting are often faced with very complex and challenging species mixes on their pieces.  Every planter's piece can also be slightly different on the coast.  For example, one coastal piece might require something like this:

"40% western red cedar, 30% western hemlock, 25% Douglas fir, and 5% Sitka spruce.  The cedar must be the only species present in salal patches.  The hemlock can be planted in pure organics, and can be mixed with cedar in mineral/organic areas.  The Douglas fir can only be planted in areas of pure mineral soil, and only on the upper two-third of the piece.  The spruce should be spread evenly throughout the lowest 20 meters of the piece in a mix with the cedar."

When you're given specs like this, it can be pretty confusing.  However, a first-year planter in the Interior won't be faced with any prescriptions that are even remotely as complex as the example that I just gave.  You'll probably be planting monocultures more often than not.  A mix of pine and spruce is also fairly common, but at least that's only two species.  Planting three species simultaneously would be relatively rare in northern BC.

When you have to plant a mix of pine and spruce, there will be two approaches.  One is a percentage mix, and the other is a targeted mix.  Even with a targeted mix your final result will still probably need to consist of specific percentages, but the difference in general is that a percentage mix is mixed consistently overall, whereas a targeted mix varies depending on which part of your piece you're planting at the moment.  Let's go into more detail, because this is confusing.  In these examples, I'm going to use a prescription for the block of 75% pine and 25% spruce.  Furthermore, I'm going to say that for some reason, your specific piece actually has to meet those same requirements exactly.

In the Percentage Mix, you will need to plant 75% pine and 25% spruce everywhere in your piece.  Let's say that your target density is eight trees per plot.  I'll explain this in more detail in the section about density.  Since 75% of eight trees is six, and 25% of eight trees is two, all of your plots should have six pine trees and two spruce trees each.  The forester expects to see both species in every part of your piece, consistently, no matter where he/she walks.  If you have a plot with five spruce and three pine, the forester will frown, because your ratio is incorrect.  You can't get away with broad mixes, which is what would happen if you planted three boxes of straight pine on one side of the piece then planted a box of straight spruce on the other side.  It needs to be mixed up on a really micro level.  This type of approach is very common on blocks where the ground is homogenous and consistent, no matter where you are on the block.

In the Targeted Mix, the expectation is that your piece will have different types of microsites, and the forester will want you to prioritize the correct species for each individual microsite.  So for example, if you have several gullies or low draws or swampy areas in your piece, you'll be expected to put spruce trees into all those areas.  The pine will go everywhere else.  Quite often, you'll still have to try to respect the overall mix, because that's how many trees got ordered.  If 10% of the piece is wet and should definitely take spruce, and 10% is dry and should definitely take pine, and the other 80% could take either species, you'll want to put straight spruce into the wet areas, straight pine in the dry areas, and the rest of your piece that can handle either species will get a mix containing the other 15% of the spruce and the other 65% of the pine.

On your first run, you might not know what you'll find, so you might take three quarters pine in your bags and one quarter spruce, and just pull out the proper trees as you go, depending on what you encounter.  But you might discover on that first run that the entire right side of your piece is a swamp.  So you might decide to take 100% spruce with you on your second and third runs, and get the swamp finished up first, so you're left with straight pine in drier ground for the rest of your bag-ups for the rest of the day.  You might also decide to spread the pain out throughout the day, so you take mostly pine and a bit of spruce on each run, and just chip away at a bit of the swamp during each bag-up.  Either approach is fine, as long as the end result is that you get the right trees in the right places.

Some foresters will tell you to use a combination of percentage mixing and targeted mixing.  This is probably the best approach, and is fairly common.  You, as a planter, get to do what makes the most sense to you.  If you feel that the lowest quarter of your piece has the most moisture, you can plant all the spruce down there and tell the forester that's what you decided was best.  If you think the moisture content is pretty consistent throughout your piece, then you can just do a random percentage mix throughout your piece.  As long as you can justify the rationale that you used to make your decisions, the forester will be happy.  In other words, you'd end up doing what you think is best for the trees, without so many strict guidelines.

If you're still uncertain about what the best decisions are for picking spots for various species in your piece, ask your foreman or trainer.  He or she will be glad to help out.


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