Friday, March 30, 2018

Step By Step, A Tree Planter's Handbook

I've just published a book called Step By Step: A Tree Planter's Handbook.  The book is intended to be a guide to the industry (for first-year planters), and also offers information on getting a job as a tree planter in Canada.

The main intent of the book is to educate new planters about all the theoretical information needed to become a successful planter.  The book covers the culture of the industry, what camp life is like, basics about tree physiology, an explanation of planting techniques, a study of how planting quality is assessed, working with helicopters, suggested gear lists, a planting dictionary with over five hundred definitions, and much more (256 pages).  A full index to the table of contents is included at the bottom of this post.

Even though the book is aimed at new entrants to the industry, there's a lot of information that second and third year planters probably won't have learned yet, especially for planters who started at companies with weak training programs.  Some sections of the book are designed to be a reference manual rather than a training guide.

As mentioned, the book also has a detailed section about finding a tree-planting job, which includes suggestions for writing an application letter, and contact information for dozens of tree planting companies throughout Canada.  

Here are links to buy the book:

The material in this book is already being used as basic training information at more than fifteen Canadian reforestation contractors.  Although I'm listed as the author, the book contains contributions from dozens of industry participants:  planters, foremen, checkers, supervisors, company owners, and foresters.  Incidentally, if you're a trainer at a Canadian reforestation company and would like to buy bulk copies at discount pricing, see this link:

The process of getting this book together started in late 2014.  Quite a bit of the training material was completed in time for the 2015 planting season, and I started to use it as the basis for training in my own camp that year.  I want to give you some interesting statistics which might show how effective the knowledge in this book is.

In the six years from 2012-2017, the first-year planters in my camp averaged the following numbers for each season as a whole:

               2012:   50,771 trees per person
               2013:   50,233 trees per person
               2014:   50,979 trees per person
               2015:   77,417 trees per person
               2016:   76,597 trees per person
               2017:   76,553 trees per person

For the statisticians here, I will offer the following notes:
- All of the above numbers included ALL first-year planters in camp, regardless of whether or not they completed the season.  The first-year planters who did a full season in 2015-2017 generally hit between 85k and 115k.
- I made a slight adjustment to each year's numbers, based on the number of days worked in that year, so that the final numbers that you see above are adjusted to a nominal 66.5 day season.  This eliminated any bias based on having a slightly longer or shorter season in any given year, although the number of days per season was fairly consistent through these six years.
- Tree prices in general throughout these six years were quite comparable overall based on per-season weighted averages, with a slight upward trend throughout the six years.  There was only one contract (in May of 2013) that featured significantly different prices than the May contracts in the other five years, so I did an adjustment of data for that month to eliminate bias.  In other words, I'm fairly close to "comparing apples to apples."  The reason that I took this approach is because I'm trying to study productivity, not earnings (earnings have trended upward slightly with inflation).
- The above data was based upon a sample totalling 76 first-year planters over those six years.
- I was very surprised at how consistent the numbers were within each trio of planting seasons, but that's the good thing about numbers: they don't lie.

If you look at the 2012-2014 average numbers (about 50,600 trees per planter) and compare that with the 2015-2017 averages (about 76,800 trees per planter), you can see that the productivity for my first-year planters jumped drastically, by greater than 51%, starting in the 2015 season.  And it stayed at that higher level.  Why?  I believe that it was due to three specific factors:

1.  I stopped hiring "friends of friends," because they weren't being vetted properly during the interview processes.  People would "vouch for their friends" as being great potential candidates, but did it because they were friends, not because they were objective about a candidate's potential.  Better quality applicants had been overlooked due to nepotism, and I resolved to stop that practice.

2.  The training material from Step By Step was made mandatory reading, and planters were required to do a two-day "Rookie School" upon arriving in Prince George (a day of classroom time to review theory, and a day of field practice).  Thanks to this, they had a better understanding of how to plant, and what makes a planter successful.

3.  By forcing applicants to gain a thorough understanding of what they were getting themselves into (through reading, photos, and video resources), many changed their mind and "dropped out" before the season even started.  My pre-season dropout rate actually jumped significantly starting in 2015.  However, I consider that to have been a successful development.  If you're not suited for planting, it's better for you to figure that out before you accept a job.  That way, you don't spend lots of money on planting gear, camping gear, and travel expenses.  It's a lot cheaper to quit in the pre-season than after you've travelled to your first bush camp.  In the years leading up to and including 2014, my "mid-season dropout rate" for first-year planters was over sixty percent.  That's terrible!  In the 2015-2017 period, that dropout rate became very small, under ten percent.  Planters who don't quit part-way through the season are inevitably going to plant a lot more trees, and that helped raise the average numbers in the statistics above.

You can see that two of the three factors in this massive productivity improvement were related to the pre-season training process.

When I was a first-year planter, I received almost no training at all.  I'm quite confident that if this book had been available at the time, I would have made thousands of dollars more than I did that season.  That's been a big reason why I've put so much time into this project over the past several years.  Tree planting is hard enough as it is, and planters deserve to have resources available that will help them make the best out of their seasons.  Incidentally, many of the chapters have links to additional multimedia resources which have been designed to match closely with the content of the book.

If you've already been hired to start planting this coming season, this book will be one of the best investments you can make.  If you've considered becoming a tree planter, and you're trying to figure out how to get a job, this book will tell you how, but it may also help you determine if you're making the right decision.

Many thanks to John Betts and the Western Forestry Contractors' Association (  They were instrumental in getting this project started several years ago, and continue to work towards improving the industry both for contractors and for workers.

I hope you learn a lot from it ...
- Jonathan "Scooter" Clark

PS:  If you're a poor student and can't afford the $19.95 USD to buy a copy, I'd recommend sending a link to the book to your parents or someone who will want to ensure that you are fully prepared for your upcoming season.  After all, isn't it a wise investment to spend that amount to gain the knowledge that could increase your summer earnings by thousands of dollars?

If you'd like to provide feedback about the book, or suggestions about additional content to be included in the 2019 edition, email (by November 1st, 2018).  As this is the first edition, I'm really looking forward to hearing emails from reader about how I can improve the book for 2019.

For a list of any errata from the 2018 edition, visit:
For more books about tree planting, visit:

Thanks to Karen Lomax for being my cover model!

Table of Contents
(The links associated with each chapter are the media pages for that chapter.  Altogether, they contain several hundred photos to illustrate various points from the book, plus video links and useful web links).

Chapter 01 - “Introduction to the Industry” 
A History of BC's Tree Planting Industry
The Modern BC Tree Planting Industry

Chapter 02 - “Why Do We Plant Trees?”
Overview of Forest Management in BC
Administration of Logging and Reforestation
People Who Should Go Planting
People Who Should Not Go Planting
Some Common Myths About Tree Planters

Chapter 03 - “Health”
Alcohol, Drugs, & Tobacco
Fitness & Avoiding Injuries
Personal Protective Equipment
Minimizing the Risk of Illness

Chapter 04 - “Working Safely, Hazards”
Assessing Risk
Personal Protective Equipment
Natural Worksite Hazards
Chemicals in the Workplace
Other Large Animals
Industry-Certified Training Courses
Chapter 05 - “Rules & Regulations”
Employment Standards Act
Workers' Compensation Act
Human Rights
Minimum Camp Standards for Silviculture Contractors
Complying with Client/Licensee Policies
Employer Policies
Camp-Specific or Crew-Specific Policies
Corporate Organization
Chapter 06 - “Camp Life”
Overview of Basic Structure
The Daily Routine
Your Cooks and Meals
Other Equipment
When You're Not in a Tent Camp
Chapter 07 - “Map Reading”
GPS System
Other Map Features
Understanding Scales
Geo-Referenced Digital Maps
Always Know Where You Are
Chapter 08 - “Nature & the Environment”
Determining Direction from the Sun
Chapter 09 - “Basic Silviculture Knowledge”
Stocking Standards
Basic Seedling Physiology
Tree Structure
Shade Tolerance
Environmental Factors Affecting Growth
Basic Soils and Planting Media
Chapter 10 - “Stock Handling”
On Site Seedling Storage
Handling Seedling Boxes
Correct Handling of Seedlings and Bundles
Chapter 11 - “Common BC Coniferous Trees”
Other Important Species
Chapter 12 - “The Planting Prescription”
The Pre-Work Conference
The Silviculture Prescription & the Planting Prescription
Potential Non-Planting Components
Block Boundaries
Mixing Species
Chapter 13 - “Planting Gear”
Planting Bags
Your Shovel
Miscellaneous Planting Gear
Non-Planting Gear
Budgeting For Your First Season
Chapter 14 - “Planting A Seedling”
Selecting the Best Microsite
Microsite Preparation
Opening the Hole, Grabbing the Seedling
Planting the Tree, Closing the Hole
Chapter 15 - “Meeting Quality Requirements”
FS 704 System Overview
Throwing Plots
Specific Faults – Damage To Seedlings
Specific Faults – Microsite Selection
Specific Faults – Planting Quality
Chapter 16 - “Spacing, Density, and Excess”
What's In A Plot?
Plotted versus Planted Density
Target Spacing & Minimum Spacing
Missed Spot – A Quality Fault
Chapter 17 - “Site Preparation”
Untreated Ground
Drag Scarification
Chemical Scarification
Prescribed Burning
Selective Harvesting
Fill Planting & Replants
Assessing a Block
Chapter 18 - “Maximizing Productivity”
Staying Organized
Efficient Planting Techniques
Efficient Work Strategies
Staying Focused
Chapter 19 - “Behaviours & Attitudes”
Maintaining the Health of the Ecosystem
Responsible, Safe, & Respectful Behaviours Toward Others
Treatment of Co-Workers
Chapter 20 - “Planting in Other Provinces”
The Maritimes
Chapter 21 - “Applying For a Job”
What Makes a Person a Good Candidate?
How To Apply For a Job
You've Been Offered A Job - What Now?
List of BC Planting Companies
Related Links
Chapter 22 – “Working With Helicopters”
Helicopter Safety
Slinging Cargo
Commonly Used Helicopters
Chapter 23 - “Wrap Up”
Field Practice
Career Options
Final Advice
Suggested Equipment Lists
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

Friday, March 02, 2018

Minimizing MSI's for Tree Planters

The Western Forestry Contractors' Association (WFCA), in conjunction with Total Physio (a company based out of Houston, BC), has recently put together some resources to assist tree planters with Musculo-Skeletal Injuries (MSI's).

The information, which is shared on this page, originally came from this link (username: wfca, password: plant).  These resources may be freely shared among the Canadian tree planting community, thanks to permission from the WFCA.

To make things simple, so you don't need to even log in to that page, I'm presenting four specific videos here.  But first, the Total Physio website also contains a total of thirteen handouts, taping guides, and posters.  Although you can view or download those resources in low resolution on the Total Physio website, I've obtained full-resolution versions from the WFCA, and I've put them into a Dropbox folder where anyone (even if you don't have a Dropbox account) can easily view and download them.

To find them on the Dropbox folder, start by going to this link:

That link takes you to my public Dropbox folder.  From there, go into the "Canadian Reforestation" folder, and then go into the "WFCA" folder.  In there, you'll see all five of the posters, both of the taping guides, and all six of the handouts (all as high-resolution versions).

My coastal crew has been using the "Self Taping Instructions for Shovel Side Tendonitis" since the start of our spring 2018 season, and the results have been amazing.  People who have regularly suffered from early-season tendo for the past several years have been trouble-free this year.  It really seems to work.  I strongly encourage planters to pay attention to this preventative measure.

The Videos


Here are the low-resolution posters that Total Physio has provided, for reference.  Again, if you're going to print them, you should definitely grab the high-resolution copies from my Dropbox account, as described above.

Taping Guides

Hi-res versions in the Dropbox folder ...


Hi-res versions in the Dropbox folder ...


For more information about tree planting and reforestation in Canada, visit:

Friday, January 19, 2018

BC Wildfire Photos, Fall 2017

When I was doing some reforestation viewing work in October and November of 2017, I ended up driving around many regions throughout central BC.  I was stunned by how extensive the wildfire damage was.

Obviously, the wildfires had been in the news for months, as it was BC's busiest fire season in history.  Several records were set, including records for the total amount of area burned in the province in a single year (1.2 million hectares), the number of people evacuated (over 65,000), and for hosting the largest single wildfire in BC's history (the Plateau fire, at 545,000 hectares, which is the size of Prince Edward Island).  More statistics can be found at these links:

Despite the news coverage, and despite knowing the scope of the damage, it was still very surreal to drive through those areas.  There were a few areas where I drove for over two hours through completely burned out devastation.

A very small portion of this area will be replanted by hand in 2018, but most of the burned area will have to rely on natural regeneration, and it will be decades before natural forests regenerate.  The amount of burned area is far beyond the scope of BC's reforestation industry to address, and even if enough tree planters and funding could be found to tackle the problem over the next 5-10 years, all the western Canadian forestry nurseries combined don't have nearly enough capacity to produce the required amount of seedlings.

On a positive note, a lot of the area that was burned had pine trees, and lodgepole pine comes back very quickly and densely after a fire.  This is because the cones usually survive fires, and the heat opens them so the seeds can escape and start a new forest.  However, that only applies in areas where mature stands burned.  Any areas that were logged in the past thirty to forty years wouldn't have the necessary mature trees with cones to initiate this process.

All of the photos here are from the Cariboo region, and specifically, from four different fires:  The Hanceville complex, the Plateau complex, the Central Cariboo complex, and the Gustafsen fire.  These areas were located to the west of 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, and Quesnel.

A lot of tree planters in central BC are going to be working in these areas in 2018.  For more information about tree planting in BC, visit

All photos on this page may be shared publicly or commercially without compensation, as long as you leave the attribution to either in the photo or as a text attribution.