In just over a week I am heading out to the bush to go treeplanting. This will be my 4th year planting, so I'm starting to see how the forestry industry works. I'm going to start this set of blog enteries on everything I know about the forestry industry. If you missed my last set of enteries, I talked about sustainability and the all that wonderful stuff. Unfortunatly there is a limit of 5 enteries per blog right now, and maybe I could get those enteries back up when they fix the problem, until then - rmember the three r's and we'll be ok. (ok, if you forgot, recycle, reduce, and reuse)
So I started treeplanting in the summer of 2003 after my first year of ski bumming. I was out of money, and Dan Kellar who was going into his second year of planting told me that I should go plant... I took his advice and signed up with The Wilderness Group (who was purchased by Broland the same year I signed up). Broland/Wilderness is a fairly large company oporating in Ontario, they hire a lot of rookies and if you are reading this and want to start up in the world of planting and are thinking of Wilderness be cautious. I ended up with an alright camp (Chapleau), but they arn't without their horror shows (Nipigon '02). The other big rookie hiring company in Ontario is Outland, from what I have heard they are very similar to Broland/Wilderness.
As for the season of planting, it was the average length for Ontario (May/June), they were very on it for keeping the schedule regular (6 on 1 off), and we had some awsome party nights. unfortunately some guy from Outland the year before drove a truck into a lake on a party night and droun (sp?) so because of that the partying wasn't as crazy. (not as crazy ment that instead of 5 kegs for the 80 person camp it was only 4 kegs every 6th night). Nothing better than getting wasted till the sun comes up and spending your only day off of the week hungover as hell. Really puts you in the mood to go run arrens in town. As for pay, we got 8-9 cents per tree. every night off you can get a cash advance for stuff, but as for 'pay days', the way most treeplanting companies work is that you work for may/june. at the end of the contract you get handed a cheque for may's work (this sucks for some people and here's why: when you're a rookie you end up starting your planting carear in the hole. You get your treeplanting equipment from the company and they charge you for it. add onto that $25/day for camp cost, and up to $150 on cash advances every week for in town and your bill adds up. Normally this is not a problem, but for some they never quite figure out how to plant the large numbers and when the month of May is over they haven't actually made any money. So when you're dropped off at some town in the middle of nowhere and your cheque has a big zero on it, it sucks. Fortunatly I had enough money), then they mail you your cheque for june's work in mid to late july.
funny story from my first year of planting: There was a man named Charles Kyumba. He was the company highballer who would plant (with his wife) up to 8000 trees a day. (At Wilderness the foreman for the crew makes commission off of what his planters plant, this information is important for the rest of the story) Now, his foreman (who had been his foreman for many years) was over the planting industry and quit. One of the planters on the crew took over as foreman and decided to test Mr. Kyumba. One day he cut everyone in his crew aprox. the same size of land. Charles and his wife claimed 6000 more trees than everyone else that day. After a week of meetings he was 'let go' without Wirehouser finding out. Wirehouser is the contractor/logging company. They get a 100 year lease on the land, they log it and hire treeplanting companies (like Wilderness) to plant the cut blocks (at Wirehouser's quality standards), and depending on what happens they will try to log it again before their lease is up). If Wirehouser has of found out about the amount of trees being stashed by a planter for Wilderness, Wilderness would have lost their work in the Chapleau area.
My second year of planting I worked with Brinkman in Thunder Bay. Brinkman is one of the largest (if not the largest) planting companies in Canada. We were a unionized camp, which ment we got paid 9-13 cents/tree (good for Ontario), and worked a 4 and 1 shift (very chill). The season started early May doing the early plant by Perry Sound where I got 3 days in the heli' before being up in Thunder Bay by the 11th. Our season was pretty normal, good land, good people, and good parties (not as good as Wilderness, but still good). One night we had a mushroom party that was intense. About 50 people high on mushrooms, a live band, in the middle of nowhere. crazy. CBC also stayed at camp for a week and filmed us/interviewed up for Street Cents. Also we were terrorised by bears, it got to the point where they were slashing tents with people in them, so we had to take action. When it was all said in done, 6 bears were shot and killed within a 4 week period. Another thing different with being part of Brinkman was that we got paid regularly (direct deposit every 2 weeks), and they were on it for knowing how many trees were going in the ground. If you tried to stash, they would know.
This brings me to last year. One word describes last year planting: *GONG*
You see, Thunder Bay was my girlfriends first year of planting, and we wanted to plant in B.C. last year, but because she only had one year under her belt they felt that she would be better to have one more season in Ontario, so they would not hire her for B.C. work. We were not going to do another year in Ontario. We became friends with this guy in Fernie who was a foreman for a company called Tsuga. He told me about the oporation and said we could have spots on his crew. This is the information he told us: 9-17 cents per tree, average tree price being around 12-14 cents, three months of planting in sask, alberta, and bc. heli work everyday, 5 on 1 off. Here is what really happened:
tree prices were 8.8 cents per tree, we were infact planting in three provences and in the heli every day (which I do admit was super sweet, I now have over 50 days in a heli'), we worked completely random shifts, not knowing when were going to work next, or when our next day off was. (we only had one 5 day shift all season). One day we woke up to plant to find out that there was no breakfast that day. We were living on an island that was disapearing before our eyes (one girl almost died in the middle of the night when a huge chunk of the island slid away into the river, luckily her tent was only partially over the crack and she only lost her backpack and most of her clothes). our boss lied to us every chance he had, and we (when I say we, I mean colectivly as a camp) stashed 10's of thousands of trees. Personally I only stashed a few thousand, but as to the total number, no idea.
Is stashing right? No. Why did I do it? Simple - because I was told to. If you think that treeplanting is saving the planet and all that bullshit, you're way off. Think of planting as working on a farm. There is nothing different with tree farms in Southern Ontario that grow Christmas Trees and what I'm doing up north... I'm just doing it on a larger scale. We wern't even sure if we would get paid, but eventually (and when I mean eventually I mean late October) all of our pay cheques did come... unfortunatly the last cheque was a little short - our boss still owes me $1000, but I will never see that money.
A word of advice for those who are looking for treeplanting work. Never (ever) work for a company that has a bonus system where they incorporate the bonus into your pay. it's a lose-lose situation. Some companies like Wilderness have a reward bonus system where you get an extra half cent if you plant 70 000 trees in the contract or an extra cent if you plant 100 000 trees, but if the bonus has to do with finishing the contract to get full pay or anything like that, DO NOT SIGN!. And watch out for Tsuga/Pursuit, or any treeplanting company from Edmonton or a man named Arthur Z.
From my work in the forestry industry I have come to the realization that it's fucked. The loggers don't give a shit about the forest (you should see some of the shit they leave behind when they're done at the block: we found a metal door once), the companies they work for only care about the $$$ (you know, that whole corperation shit), the treeplanting companies are jockying for possition to get contracts (the way it works is the treeplanting companies bid for the blocks, the lowest bid gets the block - if you have shitty companies willing to bid low to get land you end up with companies like Tsuga where the planters get FUCKED! Then there's the whole stashing issue. No one benifits from stashing. I can honestly say that I didn't make more money because I stashed. It takes just as long to stash a tree as it does to plant one. As for the state of the forest, go look on Google Earth, zoom into the forest just northwest of Prince George in B.C. You'll see how much forest has been logged. That, plus the pine beetles, plus the changing climate - I give the forest 50 years before the ecosystem crashes.