B.C. First Nation bans tree planting on its territory due to COVID-19 concerns
Province approved 2020 tree plant despite concerns from communities about spreading infections
The Nadleh Whut'en First Nation in central B.C. is banning tree planting within its territory in an effort to keep COVID-19 out of its community.
In a news release, Chief Larry Nooski said the ban will remain in effect until they are completely satisfied the virus no longer poses a threat to the general public.
"In protecting our people, we need to take every plausible action we can," Nooski told Radio West host Sarah Penton.
The Nadleh Whut'en, based around 140 kilometres west of Prince George, B.C., has been actively working to minimize the spread of the virus within its community since the pandemic began.
On March 13, it signed an emergency order to deal with the virus. It activated an emergency operations centre and has since implemented other preventative measures, such as installing health monitoring checkpoints and enforcing physical distancing to keep the virus out of the community.
The provincial government created strict guidelines to ensure tree planting operations are safe work environments, such as only allowing planters to be in close contact with a select group of people and forbidding them to visit neighbouring communities on their days off.
But Nooski is concerned those directives won't be enough.
"I appreciate the fact that there's protocols in place, but the biggest problem I have is in respect to self-policing," he said.
Nooski was a tree planter himself, and that at that time, planters did whatever and went wherever they pleased; he doesn't think tree planting companies are going to be able enforce rules around staying put in camps.
B.C.'s Forestry Safety Advocate, Jordan Tesluk, is confident that all tree planting companies in the province will follow the new guidelines, and ensure their staff follow them.
"Companies have been telling their employees for the last month that if you're not ready to follow the rules, don't show up," Tesluk said, adding that each company has created their own policies to enforce physical distancing. That includes exit protocols, which are in place to send staff home and away from the tree planting site if they aren't following the rules.
Nooski said that at this point, he can't foresee any modifications to tree planting operations changing his mind about the ban.
There are currently no plans to enforce the ban outside of telling the provincial government that the Nadleh Whut'en do not want tree planters in their territory.
With files from Radio West