"It’s a great time to be a tree planter, as there is a huge need to reforest areas harvested and burned down by wildfires"
It takes the stamina of an athlete to run up the side of a steep mountain the way Lann Dickson does.
"Nothing about it is easy," said Dickson.
"A lot of people quit in the first week or two, it definitely breaks a lot of people."
The veteran tree planter zig-zags across the mountainside in Fraser Canyon near Boston Bar, B.C., dodging stumps and branches, with 300 seedlings tucked into pouches strapped around his waist. Without losing a beat, Dickson pierces the ground with his shovel and slings a seedling into the ground. Then he's off to the next spot he eyes several metres away.
Dickson has been tree planting in B.C. for 24 years, and skilled workers like him are in extremely high demand right now.
And that's before the ambitious campaign promises by federal parties to plant billions more trees across Canada are even factored in.
Experienced tree planters like Lann Dickson are in high demand, because they know how to move quickly and safely across tricky terrain, and have the skills to plant hundreds of trees a day. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
B.C. alone needs to plant an estimated 48 million more trees in 2020 than it did last year in an effort to restore massive areas burned in the province after two record-breaking wildfires, and to promote carbon sequestration.
The Western Forestry Contractors' Association estimates the increase may be the largest leap in planting volume in the industry's 50-year history, going from 270 million seedlings this year to as many as 318 million seedlings next year.
In addition to normal projects to reforest trees harvested for logging, B.C. is planning to plant millions more trees next year in areas burned by wildfire. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
The industry estimates it employs roughly 4,500 workers. It will require 500 to 1,000 more planters to get all those extra seedlings into the ground next year.
"It's going to be a challenge for sure, [with] a lot more trees coming to market this year than past years," said Timo Scheiber, CEO of Brinkman Reforestation.
Timo Scheiber, CEO of Brinkman Reforestation, says he believes it’s a great time to be a tree planter, as there is a huge need to reforest areas harvested and burned down by wildfires. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
Adding to that extra demand, the search for reliable and experienced planters could skyrocket after a recent landmark study by Swiss researchers found that tree planting could play a huge role in combating climate change. Federal leaders on the campaign trail jumped on the study, and two parties have promised to plant billions of trees if elected.
The Liberals have pledged to plant 2 billion more trees over the next decade across the country to get Canada closer to carbon neutrality.
The Greens have an even more ambitious goal — 10 billion trees over the next three decades.
Tree planting is demanding work, and planters aren't paid by the hour - they're paid by the tree, so they have to work quickly if they want to make money. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
For tree planters like Jeff Andrews, who has been doing this for 17 years, the extra attention being paid to his trade is good news.
"Nice for us to be seen as skilled workers, not just a kid job you come out to do and mess around with for a while. It's hard work and can get quite dangerous," Andrews said.
But it's also putting big pressure on planting companies that are struggling to staff their operations.
It has become increasingly challenging for them to recruit and retain reliable staff. Besides the physical challenges, tree planting is seasonal work, and there are no benefits or guaranteed hours and wages.
Planters get compensated by the number of trees they get into the ground. They're paid anywhere from a dime to 28 cents per tree, depending on the type of terrain they are working in.
Jeff Andrews has been planting trees for 17 years. He says he enjoys the seasonal aspect of the job, because it allows him to work in the film industry the rest of the year. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
"Younger people are saying they will stay home and work at McDonald's or landscape. Stay closer to home and make slightly over minimum wage … [rather] than going through hardships of planting," said Sylvia Fenwick-Wilson, project supervisor for Zanzibar Reforestation.
The industry bumped up wages 10 to 15 per cent this year, but the job is still a hard sell.
The Greens say if they are elected they will adopt a cost-sharing model to get better compensation for planters.