Welcome the tree planter invasion

It's that time of year again.

We are being invaded, but in a very good way. You often see them at many of our friendly coffee establishments and restaurants.

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They come in all shapes and sizes. One only has to look at their hands to see that those are the hands of some very hard working people.

The tree planters have arrived.

To be a planter one must be one tough, very strong cookie. It requires one to carry huge bags of often-wet seedlings, dig a hole with a special shovel in one hand and plant the seedling with the other. It is strenuous and very physical.

British Columbia alone has over 3,500 planters this season; 55 per cent men and 45 per cent women. They plant anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 seedlings per day.

To meet the demand, 100 trees must be planted every second throughout this province.

John Betts, executive director of the Western Forestry Contractors' Association (WFCA) states: "This year's spring planting season has seen the planting start particularly slowly and problematicaly in the interior of British Columbia. Although Prince George has seen an unusually low amount of snow on the ground, the weather has not warmed up as normal, leaving snow in some interior areas."

There have been incidents of crews going planting and finding that as the snow melts it causes creeks to flood and bridges to wipe out. There are mud slides to deal with.

Just last week there was a rock slide that closed Highway 16 East.

"It is an unusually dangerous season," warns Betts.

With circumstances as they are, he says one should not wade into water any deeper than one's knees.

Planters must be alert and on the ball. Who was the brilliant person that said that there is no such thing as global warming?

Most of the reforestation companies are very organized. A large amount of their work is seasonal.

The workforce is relatively young, consisting of a high number of university and college students. Because of that, there is a large turnover of the workforce.

A major component of the first week or two is procedural as well as safety training. Companies have high demands of their planters.

Keeping everyone safe is number one. Women have become major contributors to the work force. Issues such as camp ethics, harassment and drugs are a major component of today's safety training which also includes personal attention to musculo-skeletal injuries, hydration, bear awareness and resource road driving.

Planting is piece work. Depending on the terrain, a planter can make anywhere from $0.08 to $0.80 a tree. That can amount to $5,000 to $10,000 or more after expenses in two months. Many are university students making money for education. Others like to travel, earning enough to expand their horizons that way.

Tree planting is considered to be one of the world's toughest jobs.

Those who plant long enough to manage crews and do it well are logistics experts and often work for organizations such as Doctors Without Borders for the remainder of the year.

Planters work very hard, often living in tents. When you see them on a day off, have a conversation with them. Most have interesting stories to tell.

Sitting at Books & Co. just a couple of days ago, I glanced over to see two planters playing a game of chess, while one sketched. A fellow from Saskatoon played some beautiful music on the piano.

They come from all over. I spoke to Jean-Pascal, a student as well as a poet. He has been planting for the past four seasons.

"I love the outdoors! This is the best job ever," said the young man from Montreal.

Folks, these are some great human beings visiting Prince George.

Keep in mind that not only do they plant our future forests for us, but they too are our future.

Welcome, tree planters. I am glad that you are here.

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