Nova Scotia

Low wages driving tree planters out of province, say contractors

Some tree planters in Nova Scotia say they're worried about the future of their industry as the average contractor nears 50 years old and young workers move west.

Silviculture workers met with premier this summer to push for higher rates

Tree planters "simply don’t have the economic clout" in Nova Scotia, says the president of the Nova Scotia Silviculture Contractors Association. (Alain Belliveau/Medway Community Forest Co-op)

Some tree planters in Nova Scotia say they're worried about the future of their industry as the average contractor nears 50 years old and young workers move west. 

Adam Forest, who's worked in the silviculture industry for 20 years, says people are being driven away by low wages and an uncertain work schedule. 

"For years now I see guys come out, go broke, hurt themselves, wreck their cars and quit. So this constant cycle of rookies just turns the work into low quality and low profit," said Forest, who lives in Bridgetown, N.S. 

Forest met with Premier Stephen McNeil earlier this summer to outline his concerns, and said while he feels he's been listened to, he's not convinced changes are coming soon. 

Stagnant wages

Forest says the rates paid to silviculture workers, who do everything from planting trees to thinning areas so trees can grow, haven't been significantly increased for two decades. Meanwhile, out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and equipment have risen. 

The Nova Scotia Silviculture Contractors Association, a non-profit group that works on behalf of contractors, has been lobbying the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for years to step in and do something about wages. 

In 2015, association president David McMillan made a presentation to the standing committee on resources arguing workers are essentially making what they did in 1998 — which, coupled with inflation, means they've lost 38 per cent of their purchasing power.

DNR sets silviculture rates for small, private woodlot owners through the Association for Sustainable Forestry. The association says it handles about 25 per cent of silviculture work done in Nova Scotia. 

In an email, a department spokesperson said those rates have risen between 2009-2017, some as much as 130 per cent.

'I kept going through guys'

The majority of silviculture work is paid for by mills, which are required to invest in silviculture depending on the amount of trees they harvest. 

They couldn't make any money so they would just quit.- Laurie Peters, silviculture contractor 

Northern Pulp declined an interview with CBC News and spokesperson Kathy Cloutier said in an email that rates are internal company information and are reviewed annually. 

Laurie Peters has been fighting for better wages for the better part of 40 years. Now in his 70s, Peters decided to lay off his entire crew two years ago because he said he could no longer afford to pay them.

"They couldn't make any money so they would just quit, so I kept going through guys," said Peters. 

Work schedule uncertain

For Marc Chisholm, who hires tree planters through his company Coastal Woodlands Inc., it's not only what he's able to pay workers that worries him. He said mills often wait until April to award contracts, which is too late in the season. 

"When you can't guarantee planters work in February, March when they're making their decisions for the spring, that's when they tend to go west," said Chisholm. 

Nova Scotia's silviculture program, which has been in place since the late '90s, leaves silviculture contractors out of the conversation, says McMillan.

"It's frustrating," he said. "We simply don't have the economic clout."

He's convinced the only way workers will see changes to how silviculture work is awarded is if "every contractor basically laid down their tools and stopped performing silviculture work."

For Forest, it's an issue that goes beyond his paycheque. He grew up in the Annapolis Valley, and now in his 40s, he's concerned about the next generation of tree planters. 

"There's a bigger story here of people being driven out of rural Nova Scotia and that to me is just wrong," he said. 


Emma Smith

Digital Associate Producer

Emma Smith is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with story ideas and feedback at

With files from CBC's Information Morning