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May 30, 2010 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Forest Facts, a site that details the struggle between the Western Canadian silviculture & reforestation industry and the Mountain Pine Beetle.

Newcomers to the peculiarly Canadian subculture of treeplanting are advised to watch this introductory instructional video before starting their rookie season.
posted by mannequito (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
When former treeplanters meet, and there's beer, it won't be long before they're swapping stories about shitting in the woods, and how badly it went.

Having driven through and camped in these same forests suffering from Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, I can tell you that it's bizarre looking. You'll hit a high plateau on the highway with visibility for miles, and see huge swaths of forest turned red-brown. At first it looks pretty, like fall colours, except they're coniferous trees, and they're all dead.
posted by fatbird at 11:52 PM on May 30, 2010


My nephew plants trees in BC between spring and fall semesters to make beer money. It doesn't matter. I was up there last fall in Merritt which is just on the edge of the affected area which extends into Washington State. Miles and miles of hills valleys and mountains of dying evergreens. The trees turn a rusty red in a feverish effort to rid themselves of the infecting beetle. They remain standing after having died and the wood turns blue. They are marketing the wood as something exotic but there is so much now and in the future it is about as exotic as sand. It's hard to overstate how widespread and thorough the damage is. There aren't enough nephews in the whole world to make a dent. Map here.
posted by vapidave at 12:07 AM on May 31, 2010


Without reading through it all, surely the simple fact is that the mountain pine beetle isn't going away this side of the climate change mountain, and any tree planted now will just get attacked and die soon enough anyway?

I'm glad the Canadian government are so committed to tackling climate change.
posted by wilful at 3:13 AM on May 31, 2010


It's interesting to look into a forestry subculture like tree planting, but I have trouble taking everything said on those sites at face value. I don't know that it exactly It seems the first site is just trying to create more tree planting jobs, which I can understand tree planters wanting. I find the Canadian silviculture culture a bit depressing. Like most silviculture, really. Managed forests and plantations are not exactly natural. In BC, they can get a good deal of productive regeneration in plantations, but it's not at all the same as what was growing there originally (in general).
It's hard to believe what is still being cut in the world, and Canada in particular. If any of you ever come across lumber on a regular basis, take a look at the growth rings; you'll be surprised at how much new lumber is still old-growth. Harvesting and replanting pine beetle kill is different than "normal" silviculture; suddenly there are vast amounts of dead trees, creating a limited window for harvesting and a tinderbox, but roads have to be cut in and soil lost to harvest. It's not a good situation in any direction. I'm wondering about the quote:
Between 3 and 6 million ha's will not regenerate naturally and will require tree planting.
Where does this number come from? Every forest regenerates eventually, though after hot fires, it takes longer.

Vapidvave, the trees don't turn themselves red to try and rid themselves of the beetle, it's the foliage dying from lack of water after the blue stain has plugged their vascular flow. The blue stain is a fungus carried by the beetle, making it easier for them to gain a foothold.
posted by Red Loop at 3:22 AM on May 31, 2010


The BC government website used to have a nice animated map of the infestation. This series is still interesting for an overview of how the beetle is spreading.
posted by sneebler at 6:06 AM on May 31, 2010


any tree planted now will just get attacked and die soon enough anyway?

Pine beetles disproportionally kill older trees. It's been bandied about (here in the U. S. part of the Rockies, at least) that over-eager fire suppression policies are partly to blame for creating a dense population of uniformly senescent trees.
posted by Rat Spatula at 6:51 AM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


@fatbird: "At first it looks pretty, like fall colours, except they're coniferous trees, and they're all dead."

Yup....and I can say having grown up in BC and hearing my parents talk about the darn beetle kill my whole life, it never really hit me until I moved away (far away) and then came back a few years ago and saw that, rather than a few isolated trees here and there near the coast, it had moved all the way up the #5 and showed no signs of stopping.... brought a tear to my eyes. All the millions of trees and beautiful forests I'd known my whole life were dead or dying, and nothing was going to stop it short of a freak super-cold winter.
posted by TravellingDen at 7:12 AM on May 31, 2010


Without reading through it all, surely the simple fact is that the mountain pine beetle isn't going away this side of the climate change mountain, and any tree planted now will just get attacked and die soon enough anyway?

The beetles generally prefer mature trees, so it's hoped that by the time the replanted seedlings grow up, most of the Beetles will have already have run out of food, and will be gone.

I've worked all over the BC Interior and the north for the past few years, and pine beetle kill is pretty sobering to behold. The road from Prince George to Houston at the start of the Bulkley Valley and a different ecosystem (several hundred kilometers), for example is lined with dead trees. They're no longer orange, they're just black. It's pretty terrifying.

Pine beetle has totally changed the (third world) economy of rural British Columbia, but one story that hasn't been told is how tough it's going to be for First Nations (aka American Indians) people. The entire ecology, hydrology has been completely altered. It's like living on a different planet.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 AM on May 31, 2010


Pine beetle infestation ==> fires ==> fire morels.. All part of God's delicious plan.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2010


Jesus, don't get involved with the tree-planting industry.

Unless you really need to be a pointless little cog of the pulp-and-paper biz, which is some weird industry/government hybrid that exists to consume resources in order to keep the mills running through legal mazework and obfuscation.

Clear-cutting/scarification is the order of the day, and a tree is meaningless if it under/over a certain size, too close to another tree, or not yet cut down and dragged off to a mill.

If maintaining a tree farm that used to be an actual forest is your idea of a good time, and you like earning 7.5 cents a tree paid out by the company that low-balls government tenders the best, then knock your bad self out.

Luckily we got that universal health care in Canada, because if you do decide to go planting, you will need it. Maybe not now, but it is the kind of work that catches up with you, eventually.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:56 AM on May 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


These "forest facts" are not facts at all. They are just a bunch of numbers thrown together to make a plea for more tree planting contracts.

The state of our forests and of the forest industry in BC are a huge mess (and not just because of the pine beetle). Planting more trees is not the solution.
posted by ssg at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2010


This was my post so I feel the need to say that I do work in this industry. Not that I had an agenda in posting this, I've actually wanted to put together something regarding treeplanting for awhile and was waiting for something to put it in context.

anyways, in regards to this:

you like earning 7.5 cents a tree

7.5 is more likely the average paid in Ontario/Quebec, where the land is flat & prepped and the biggest difficulty might be rock shields under the ground.
BC prices tend not to drop below 12c and can reach up into the 40s or 50s for the really extreme coastal land, which reforestation companies often have to boat or helicopter into.
For example though, I've been working recently planting at a price of 20c per tree planted. Its not too extreme or remote, living in a town right on the border to Washington State, although we do have to drive an hour+ either way down logging roads. But the difference between 7.5c and 20c is huge - for my own average production, that works out to over 200$ more per day. Multiply times 50 or so days of work in a season ... yeah.

None of which is to say I don't feel like a cog in the great lumber machine, cause I do.
posted by mannequito at 11:36 AM on May 31, 2010


When I treeplanted in southern Saskatchewan and northern Manitoba in the summer of 91, I got 4-5c per tree, and at that rate it was common to plant around $200-300/day, depending upon daylight, and reasonable effort. My brother went on to northern Alberta where the rates went up to 75 cents a tree because they worked in pairs, one with the seedlings and one with the modified chainsaw to screef with.

Treeplanting isn't a bad job in itself, at least for pay and with a good company, and a hard worker can make a lot of money. We had guys who'd earn $35-40k in six months, and take the winter off.
posted by fatbird at 12:43 PM on May 31, 2010


7.5 is more likely the average paid in Ontario/Quebec, where the land is flat & prepped and the biggest difficulty might be rock shields under the ground.
While true, those Canadian Shield planters know the contracts are severely low-balled, and they are the ones that get the shortest, shittiest end of the stick. While some of the terrain may not be as extreme as West-coast leases, you can expect to "plant a tree, climb over three" all day for 7.5 cents in many cases. If scarification took place 3-5 years ago it isn't prepped for you very much any more. And "flat" is a matter of perspective.

It's a different type of difficulty, and in the 90s the average piecework price paid to planters took a nose-dive while the industry rolled in profits.
BC prices tend not to drop below 12c and can reach up into the 40s or 50s for the really extreme coastal land, which reforestation companies often have to boat or helicopter into.
And I've never heard of regular planter getting those 40/50c jobs. You need a few years experience where you have proven your ability to keep your trap shut and plant. I suppose this is the treeplanting equivalent of a promotion.

At any rate, my point still stands: tree-planting is really a feel-good way for governments to give away choice leases to companies that make forests un-liveable for anything other than bugs. Which is rather ironic, given the subject of this article.

There is just so much wrong with the industry as a whole, any "good" it might do is essentially lost in the noise.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:54 PM on May 31, 2010


And I've never heard of regular planter getting those 40/50c jobs. You need a few years experience where you have proven your ability to keep your trap shut and plant. I suppose this is the treeplanting equivalent of a promotion.

This is partially true but there's also a safety angle to it. Those areas really are extreme and legally the planting company has to make sure its employees invest in proper equipment (caulk boots, radios) and have a certain number of level 3 first aid attendants on hand, so most first or second year workers aren't ready to make that kind of commitment.

On the other hand the recent turmoil in the industry has led to situations like the one detailed here (thats a thread on the replant.ca forums, you may need to register to read it), where a brand new company lowballed a bid in one of the most remote logging regions in the province, brought in a bunch of inexperienced African workers, and paid them hourly to complete the job.
posted by mannequito at 3:20 PM on May 31, 2010


Here's the main post copy&pasted from that forum thread, for anyone who wants to read it without signing up for an account:

Those of you who follow the threads on this site will be familiar with the story of the ridiculously low bid BCTS contract that was awarded to a contractor with no experience on the coast. This was brought to the attention of BCTS from the perspective of safety suggesting that whoever tried to do this work at that low a price would likely have to compromise the safety of their crew. There are heli blocks on this contract that are bad enough to frighten even the most experienced of crews, steeep, gnarly slash pits where only the cedar has been higraded out and many standing trees left. To compound things, the blocks are a good ways up Jervis inlet requiring boats and barges in addition to helicopters.

BCTS ignored these concerns until John Betts and the WSCA threw their weight into the fray. A conference call was held involving WSCA, BCTS, the BC Forest Safety Council and concerned contractors. Platitudes and bureauspeak won the day and not much of any concrete nature was achieved. BCTS insisted that they had done their due diligence and by hell or high water they were going ahead with their low bid inexperienced contractor because they had received a couple of good references from the interior.

Now the doo doo is hitting the fan. The lowball contractor came in with a crew of 30 Africans from Montreal, 7 of whom were experienced, no caulk boots and no real clue how to do the work. They are camping at Vanada RV Storage on Texada Island, living in tents and storage lockers with a substandard camp. The RCMP, WCB, Health Inspector and BCTS have all been there and apparently are letting multiple safety and health infractions go.

Currently the contractor Khaira Enterprises is working on relatively easy flat blocks and they are learning how to plant and cone the trees they're planting. They will soon have to move into the nasty helicopter access blocks with a crew of rookies, none of whom are prepared for what they are about to deal with. They will be lucky to escape unscathed. I think the contractor will probably get shut down before this happens but it won't be from BCTS doing the right thing. It will be because they are afraid of having the doo doo stick to them.

There is something seriously wrong with the way BCTS views planting and who is qualified to deliver the work safely and to legislated standards. You only have to look at what happened last year when Batlang was allowed to proceed with a contract they never should have had. They ended up going bankrupt and shafting numerous planters of many tens of thousands of dollars. BCTS thinks they have no obligation to enforce standards of health and almost no obligation to enforce safety requirements. They seem to have no real corporate conscience. Make no mistake, they are a corporation - and the worst kind because they're ultimately responsible to politicians. This doesn't apply to many of the people who work for BCTS and it will be they who close this mockery of a contract down.

Unless BC Timber Sales takes a long hard look at their policies and practices, they will continue to undermine planters rights to work safely and earn a fair wage. I am very concerned that the African-Canadians working on the Powell River job will not receive fair pay for what they're doing. It is not their fault that BCTS allowed a contractor who has no business working this kind of contract to be there.

I've ranted on enough I think. Suffice to say that we cannot allow this sort of nonsense to go on. It is a black eye for the whole planting community. I think CBC would snap it up and make this business (our business) look like a gong show.

posted by mannequito at 3:25 PM on May 31, 2010


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