British Columbia

B.C. tree planters on track to plant 300 million trees, despite pandemic

Tree planters in B.C. are on track to plant more than 300 million trees this year, despite working around new COVID-19 regulations and dealing with a soggy spring. 

Soggy weather has extended planting season

Despite a slow start to the season, B.C. tree planters are on track to plant 300 million trees this year. (Free Images)

Tree planters in B.C. are on track to plant more than 300 million trees this year, despite working around new COVID-19 regulations and dealing with a soggy spring. 

So far, planters have managed to plant 250 million seedlings, and, this summer, they will complete the remaining 50 million. 

Western Forestry Contractors Association executive director John Betts said that even if there are wildfires in B.C. this summer, he's confident they'll be able to plant all the trees.

"We just end up having to move camps and some of us get recruited as firefighters," he told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"I think we're going to come very close to planting 300 million. That's remarkable as far as I can tell and I bet we can figure out a way to manage even around wildfires should they come."

No COVID-19 cases in tree planting camps

When the season began in April, new rules were put in place for camps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and workers were told they could no longer go into nearby communities on their days off. Some communities raised concerns about the presence of workers and their potential to spread the virus. 

Of the nearly 5,000 individuals recruited for tree planting in B.C., Betts said none of them have tested positive for COVID-19.

"A lot of credit has to go to the workers for taking this very seriously," he said. 

However, he said reduced opportunities for planters to socialize, combined with ongoing rainy weather, has been "taxing."

"Now, the fact that we're still planting trees … in July is because of the weather, so the weather's been both a benefit and kind of a bane for the workers."

Cool, damp weather has allowed the planting season to last longer, which means they've been able to make up for lost time at the beginning of the planting season. 

However, workers finish each day cold and wet, and Betts said that's starting to wear on tree planters, after 50 days of intense work.

Preparing for next year

Betts said the industry is already preparing for next year and assuming plans will look similar.  

"The thing is, of course, we're not out of the woods yet, so to speak," he said. 

Similar protocols around hygiene and physical distancing, screening workers and having them self-isolate upon arrival are all protocols he expects to continue. 

"We don't want communities fearing our arrival again, as some of them did this year," Betts said. 

With files from Daybreak North

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