Every spring in western Canada, after the snow has finally melted and the birds are making their nests, thousands of young men and women make their way to the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia for summer jobs in the forestry industry. Many come from all across Canada, while some travel from other parts of the globe, and other adventurous souls come all the way up north from the United States of America. The job they are coming for is planting trees in the Canadian wilderness. While the job is the same for all, the reasons why they dedicate their entire summer to planting trees is often very different from one person to the next. Some need to save money for university and college, some are saving for a trip to a tropical country to escape the cold Canadian winter, and some of us work year-round in forestry to support our families.
The job may sound simple. Just planting some trees, right? But the brave souls who have survived a season of tree planting will tell you that it is anything but easy. Imagine living in a tent from May to August, hiking all day long while bending over thousands of times with heavy gear on, and getting eaten alive by mosquitos!
For most people, this may sound like the last thing they would ever want to do. But for those who accept the challenge, they know that the sacrifices, hard work and long hours can make for an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience. Seeing the mountains and forests of western Canada up close and making money while doing it is just one of the many perks of the job, but making friendships that can last a lifetime is one of the more unique features.
The workers arrive when the snow has melted and the land is ready to be planted. A camp is set up in remote forested areas close to where the work needs to be completed. The camp consists of trailers and tents with generators to produce electricity for the entire area. There’s a kitchen, showers and large tents for shelter. For sleeping, the workers sleep in tents, and sometimes they’re lucky enough to have campers or trailers for the season.
Breakfast is usually served between 6 and 7 a.m. before the crews head out to the field for the day. Ranging in size from six to 18, each crew is led by someone who usually has a number of years of experience at the job and has developed into a great leader. The crews travel in modified pickup trucks that also transport the seedlings for planting while keeping them cool so that the trees don’t get damaged before they are planted. Once on site, the workers are divided into sections, or pieces, to plant. Perhaps the most unique and attractive thing about tree planting is that workers are paid a “piece-work” rate based on the number of trees they plant each day. This drives each individual to motivate themselves to work hard and it usually creates some friendly competition between the workers and crews.
Each tree planter is equipped with a set of canvas bags with backpack shoulder straps that attach with a buckle at the hip. The bags are designed to keep the trees, mostly pine and spruce, safe and cool while the planter hikes through the land and plants one at a time. A small spade shovel is used to open a hole in the dirt and the seedlings are planted one at a time. The bags weigh around 60 pounds and can hold anywhere from 100-400 trees. A typical planter can plant anywhere from 1,000-4,000 trees in a day, which means bending over thousands of times a day in either the freezing cold spring rain or the summer’s hot sun, traipsing through the mud and hills while carrying the bags of trees, all while getting tormented by mosquitos!
At the end of each day, the planters return to the camp where they eat dinner and hang out together to talk about their day by a campfire. The friendships that are formed through doing this physically and mentally demanding job together can last a lifetime, and it’s not uncommon for some to even meet their future husband or wife on the job!
A season of planting trees in western Canada can be both terrible and terrific at the same time. The job is as much fun as it is difficult, and just as the trees themselves grow stronger by day, so too do those who plant them.