British Columbia

How the pandemic helped B.C. tree planters have one of their 'healthiest years ever'

It might sound counterintuitive, but COVID-19 led B.C.'s tree planters to have one of their "healthiest years ever," according to an industry representative.

Industry planted 300 million seedlings with zero cases of COVID-19

Tree planters in B.C. are about to plant their 300 millionth seedling of the season.

It might sound counterintuitive, but COVID-19 led B.C.'s tree planters to have one of their "healthiest years ever," according to an industry representative.

And despite a late start, planters are about to put the 300 millionth seedling of the season in the ground, setting a new annual record.

"It's been a good year," said John Betts of the Western Forestry Contractors' Association, which represents the majority of tree planting companies in the province.

It's a far cry from where the industry was in March, when, worried about the coronavirus, there was uncertainty over whether the province would even allow 5,000 workers to spread out across the province and into rural communities.

But Betts said health guidelines drawn up by industry and the province allowed the work to be done without putting anyone at risk of infection.

"A lot of credit needs to go to our workers," he said. "They understood the risks that they faced themselves and also wanted to keep the communities safe. And as a result of them taking this quite seriously, we managed to get through the season without anyone testing positive for COVID, which is in itself quite an accomplishment."

Planters limited to isolated work pods

For decades, summers in remote planting camps have been defined by hard work and intense socializing.

But this year, planters were assigned to small groups or "work pods" and not allowed to socialize with people from other camps or pods.

They were also required to stay in their work camps, forbidden from visiting neighbouring communities on their days off or, in some cases, allowed to stay in motels or hotels where they were monitored to make sure they weren't interacting with the wider community. 

"We went to great efforts to keep our crews separate from the communities," Betts said.

The result? Not only did no one get sick from COVID-19, but Betts said other illnesses that usually plague work camps, such as flus and gastrointestinal infections, were also absent. Workers also got more sleep leading to fewer illnesses.

"We probably had one of our healthiest years ever," Betts said.

Rain took toll but helped seedlings

Still, he admitted there were hardships.

While workers were physically healthy, the isolation of work camps took a mental toll. That was compounded by heavy rain all summer long which, while good for seedlings, didn't do much to lift the spirits of people unable to go into town to take a break.

But Betts said the overall success of the season, combined with the fact it doesn't appear COVID-19 restrictions are going to be lifted anytime soon, means 2021 will probably look much the same as this year.

"Our association is recommending we use the same standards and protocols next year," he said.

Listen to the full interview by tapping the play button below:

John Betts of the Western Forestry Contractor Association provides an update on the season. 6:53

More on tree planting in British Columbia:


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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