This page attempts to enlighten a potential planter about what to expect while living in the bush. It is a fairly comprehensive page, and among other topics, includes the following:
What to expect for living conditions.
The daily routine.
Time actually spent planting.
Who should go planting.
Who should not go planting.
Some common myths about planters.
Bugs or Insects.
Bringing a vehicle.
Bringing a pet.
A photo of the inside of a tent kitchen, with Jenn opening one of the ovens. The stoves and freezers are usually the most annoying things to deal with during a camp setup, since they're so heavy and hard to get in and out of the trucks.
Another photo of the inside of a kitchen tent.
A photo of the inside of a cook trailer, which may be used as an alternative to a traditional tent kitchen. Your company may use cook trailers in more readily accessible locations to provide a more convenient and semi-permanent kitchen setup for the cooks. This only shows one side of the trailer. It is difficult to get a good photo, since they are obviously long and narrow.
The inside of the walk-in cooler. You can see the fans on the ceiling at the back. This insulated cooler is kept cool by these fans and a compressor behind the unit, and food (vegetables, bread, and many other items) is stored on the shelves inside it. The walk-in functions as a large refrigerator.
This photo shows the outside of the walk-in cooler, plus a couple of freezers. Many companies just use several freezers instead of a walk-in cooler or traditional refrigerators, because they are more durable. Some companies may have some freezers which are kept cold (below -18 Celsius) for frozen goods, and cool (around -4 Celsius) for refrigerated goods. My camp always uses a walk-in for cooled items, and two freezers for true frozen foods.
A tree planting season starts for most people in late April or early May. May is all about cold mornings, freezing rain, and lots of enthusiasm. By mid-June, however, things are heating up, light misty rains are welcome, and after thirty days of planting, most people are starting to talk about time off. Most planting camps work for four or five days, then one day off, in a cycle called "four and one's" or "five and one's." You will also undoubtedly have four or five days off per month due either to unexpected downtime (vehicle hassles, frozen trees, fog days while using helicopters, snowstorms, etc.), or planned downtime between contracts or when moving camp. When this happens, don't complain - take advantage of the downtime to get some rest. At other times during the busy parts of the season, you will be wishing you had more free time. The trick is to bite the bullet, and take advantage of planting when it's available. By the middle of June, most people (even if they don't want to) would be well advised to take a week off to recover before summer work. It is often traditional to have a forced week or so off around this time of year due to the space between spring and summer contracts.
There are three basic types of accommodation. The first (and most common) is the bush camp. You live in your tent, and the contractor provides a mess tent, showers, meals and transportation into town once per shift for time off. Most planters prefer the comfort of logging camps or hotels, but a well-run bush camp in a nice location is still a great way to spend a few months. Bush camps are always more sociable than cabins or hotels, and more laid back. Of course, when working in Alberta, it is fairly common for your camp to turn into a horrible mud pit.
Sometimes you may find yourself working in a logging camp. You stay in logging trailers, which come complete with one or two beds per room, hot showers and running water, laundry facilities, a heated mess hall, and television and/or internet access. The advantages are comfort, but sometimes at the expense of higher camp costs (although BC has regulated camp costs, so this usually isn't an issue).
Finally, you may be working out of hotel accommodations, or staying in guest cabins in wilderness resorts. Usually, you buy and cook your own food, or sometimes eat in a nearby restaurant, depending on what arrangements the contractor has been able to work out. Depending on the size of the room, your roommates, and their habits and cooking skills, this can either be a great or a horrible experience.
You are charged camp costs, which are generally $25-30 per day (HST extra) in bush camps, $25-40/day in logging camps, and $8-15/day in hotels (with no food included). Camp costs include meals, the use of facilities (such as showers or the occasional TV), and transportation to the work site and to town. In BC, legislation prohibits the employer from charging more than $25 per day (including HST) for camp costs. No such legislation exists in Alberta, so camp costs are generally higher in that province.
What you eat depends mostly on your cook. Most planting companies now offer vegetarian food, but vegetarians should beware unless there are a lot of you. A cook making dinner for forty other people may not have the energy to devote to a top-of-the-line vegetarian dish for only two or three people. No matter what, you should get lots of food. If you don't, there is a serious problem with the cook or the company, and you should let your foreman or supervisor know immediately. If you have allergies to anything, tell the cook. If the food lacks variety, or you want something, ask the cook (or assistant) about it - usually there are very valid reasons why an experienced cook will stay away from certain dishes, but occasionally it is just a lack of knowing that there would be an interest. Remember that most cooks take enormous pride in what they do, and if anything, they will complain that they don't make the menu more varied because they don't know what the planters want or like. If you have specific suggestions for more variety, talk to the cooks directly rather than just complaining to other planters on the block.
The "reefer," which stands for "refrigerated truck." This unit gets pulled by a standard eighteen wheele. This is usually how the camp equipment is transported to the campsite (or as close to the site as is possible). In spring contracts, the trees are frozen after being in cold storage for the winter, so after the camp gear is moved out of the reefer, it is used as a cache to hold the boxes of seedlings. It gets turned on and regulated to a temperature of between about one and four degrees Celcius. In summer contracts, the fresh seedlings are "hot-lifted" from the nursery, and because they didn't freeze and hibernate, they give off a lot of heat in the tree boxes while they are growing. Because of that, reefers are not used for "summer stock" (except for transport to the work site). Instead, we set up a large open cache in a shady area of the woods instead, with tarps over the trees to keep direct sunlight off them.
A "crummy." Actually, the crummy is the nickname for the big box on the back of the truck. This box, which sits on the back of the larger rental trucks (Ford F450's), is a specially built personnel transport unit approved by the Worker's Compensation Board, which has four or five seats and seat belts in it. These seats can also fold down to provide a carrying rack for a stretcher during emergencies. The back area of the crummy is sometimes referred to by its nickname, the "tin bin," or maybe as the "sin bin." The truck may sometimes also be referred to by its designated name, the ETV (emergency transport vehicle). Since this unit is so heavy, the truck that carries it is inevitably a "dualie" with dual wheels on each side of the back of the truck. Most companies are moving away from the use of crummies, because of legislative changes which severely restrict their use.
You will wake up between 5am and 6am, get dressed, and stumble into the mess tent. A huge breakfast awaits you, which you will have difficulty forcing down. Breakfast is a critical meal!! Although some planters will want to skip this meal, the energy you get from a strong breakfast will be critical in ensuring a productive day. After you've finished eating, you make your lunch from materials provided by the cook: sandwiches, granola, cookies, fruit, juice, vegetables, trail mix, candy, etc. Smart planters get up early to get the best selection for their lunches. After breakfast, you get into your transportation (usually a crew cab or a van) and head off to the block. On site, you grab your planting bags, load up with trees, grab your shovel, and head out to your piece of land. After nine or ten hours, you return to camp, where you can wash up and then eat a huge meal.
After dinner, it's all up to you. Guitars appear, smokes are lit, letters get written, and there's lots of conversation. The smart planters will be in bed asleep well before nine o'clock, to get a good rest for a productive day starting the next morning.
On "nights off," ie. the night before the day off, you will quit planting anywhere between noon and 5pm (usually depending on the state of the block you're on, the distance from camp to town, and crew dynamics). I've always told planters in my own camp that on the nights before days off, we always work a full day - that extra half day of production for every five days of work leads to a 10% increase in productivity. However, other crews always opt to quit at lunch on the last day of the shift, especially if they are pretty far from the nearest town. Anyway, when you're done work, you'll go back to camp and grab your laundry and clean clothes. Your crew might have to pick up empty fuel or water barrels and/or propane tanks, or maybe hook up the garbage trailer, and then you can head into town. Town has a laundromat, restaurant, liquor store, bar, and hotel. The stereotypical planter's routine for some people is to drink as much as possible as quickly as possible and make a fool of himself or herself, including vomiting, getting kicked out of bars, getting beaten up by local red-necks, getting arrested, etc. However, with the increased professionalism coming into planting over the past decadee, this is not so much the norm anymore. Nowadays, many planters realize that they only work for about fifty to sixty days per year (unless you're a professional on the Coast), and they need to make the most of this time, so they get as much rest as possible on days off. Anyway, no matter what your preference is, the next day is spent doing the laundry and running around town, procuring supplies. Sometimes the day off is so hectic (due to getting prepared for another shift), that experienced planters will say that they want to go back to work as soon as possible, to recover from the day off.
A couple times per season, great nights off happen in camp: a huge fire, some cases of beer, somebody's guitar or radio, lots of smokes, etc. These truly will be the best nights of your life. Just don't get too drunk and pass out in the bushes, only to wake up to find a bear trying to drag you off by your pantlegs (I've seen this happen).
Some water barrels. Every couple of days, when necessary, someone takes these to town to refill at a local gas station or campground with "pure" tap water from municipal systems or wells. Planters and cooks then use these as a source of all drinking/cooking water. Planters should not drink out of streams or puddles, to try to minimize the risks of contracting guardia lamblia, or "beaver fever" from bacteria in untreated water. You can see the little hand pump (light plastic) in one barrel which is used to pump water into the planters' water containers.
Instead of using water barrels, many leading companies are starting to use large water reservoirs with trucked-in potable water, in order to set up a professional water supply system for the camp.
I have heard that planting is rated by Manpower Canada (or whatever their current title is) as the toughest job, both mentally and physically, that anyone can do in Canada. You will plant in all kinds of weather, from rain and snow to thirty-five degree heat. The work itself involves strapping on planting bags full of trees, which weigh from ten to forty pounds, grabbing a shovel, and criss-crossing every square metre of your land, planting seedlings about two and a half metres apart from each other. Planting techniques vary from site to site. In most of BC, sites are not prepared for planting, so the planter has to climb over slash, stumps, and other obstacles, and screef (clear away) debris from the mineral soil with a shovel before planting the tree. Some BC planting, and a lot of Alberta planting, is done on site-prepped land, where machines attempt to clear debris away from the soil. This makes planting easier, but of course, also lowers the tree price to the planter. The planter is responsible for covering his/her assigned piece of land, planting the correct density and sufficient quality, and using the proper techniques in planting and handling seedlings. You plant as quickly or as slowly as you want, and when you are out of trees, you head back to the cache to get more, and maybe even grab some water or a quick snack. You'll see your foreman and quality checkers a couple of times per day, and if you plant improperly, you have to "replant" or fix your trees, which is a frustrating waste of your time and money, considering that you should have planted them correctly in the first place. Planters must achieve a minimum specified quality (we'll go into this later) or the company doesn't get paid for the work.
Mornings are usually cold. Once you're at the block, you'll have to get out of a warm vehicle, and bag up with wet trees that you've packed into a heavy, damp set of planting bags. Soon (maybe) the sun will come out, the temperature heats up, and the bugs come out. You can, if you wish, use DEET-based repellents to combat mosquitoes, black flies, horseflies, gnats, and "no-see-ums". You'll get very thirsty and hungry. Towards the end of the day, you'll be tired and maybe bored. If the planting goes well, you'll be happy. If you have to replant, or your land is bad, you will become frustrated or unhappy (but you should realize that a certain amount of bad land is inevitable). The foreman will hopefully try to spread the good and bad land out evenly, or at least, if someone gets obvious preferred treatment for a day or so, there will be an obvious reason for it, and the advantage will shift to other members of the crew a day or so later. Rain or cold may affect you, but remember, there's always beauty everywhere, from the views of mountains to flowers to animals to the cute planter in the next piece of land who's taken off his or her shirt. At the end of the day, everyone puts their equipment away under tarps, and you grab your personal kitbag and head back to the trucks. Everybody stinks of sweat, the truck is generally filthy, and people are happy. Sounds like Utopia, eh? And even if you've had a bad day, at least it's over. You give your foreman your numbers for the day, and probably fall asleep on the way back to camp. Once you've started to drive home, put planting out of your head. If you can try not to think about it again until you arrive back on the block the next morning, you'll enjoy your summer more.
Planting feels like different things to different people. I personally find that it feels like "meditation without thinking," which doesn't really make any sense. Once I've bagged up and planted the first ten trees in the ground, it usually feels like I'm bagging out about two minutes later. When I'm done my bag-up, I have no idea what I've thought about for the past hour or so, but then again, I don't remember my dreams either. Some people find planting an exciting, competitive kind of racing activity, while others find it frustrating, boring, or physically exhausting.
Successful planting involves a number of things. I define a successful planter as a high income planter who enjoys his/her job (as much as it is possible to enjoy planting), and plants adequate quality trees while making minimal demands on the foreman and planters around him/her. I like to think that planters should be able to gross $250 to $300 per day for a veteran, or $150 to $200 per day for a first-year planter, averaged over the course of a complete season. Some people may look at $250/day as being a lot of money, perhaps more than someone should deserve for this kind of work. If you think that, try doing the work yourself for a full season. And think about the math: most planters only get to work about fifty to sixty days per season, depending on how many contracts your company secures. Sixty days at $250/day is only $15,000 for your "annual" income. Sure, you can try to get other work in the fall and winter, but even so, tree planting by itself is a tough way to earn enough money to live on for a full year (although it can be a wise career choice for a few years if you're a university student). Another problem to consider is that on top of your earnings, you have to factor in expenses such as camp costs, equipment, sturdy clothing, motels on days off, bug spray, and other work-related amenities. Realistically, a contractor needs to bid a job so that the very best experienced planters (ie. those who are highly motivated and who have about three or more full seasons of experience) can gross about $300 per day before expenses, to ensure a reasonable level of retention in future years. And for the foresters who have to pay this kind of money to get the job done, it is important to remember that if the planters don't make good money, the company will have a high percentage of inexperienced workers the following year, and the quality of work done for the forester declines significantly with inexperienced workers. Maybe the phrase, "You get what you pay for" isn't entirely applicable, but in some ways there is an element of truth to it. For a planter though, remember that you get paid for the amount of work you do. Don't expect that you should earn this kind of money automatically, just for showing up. You have to work your ass off, always, no matter how harsh the conditions are, and you'll trade this kind of daily income for a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
Happiness is important. Spending ten hours by yourself in barely tolerable physical conditions is a bad way to deal with relationship hassles, depression, existential questions, grief, etc. Unhappiness also slows you down, because it detracts from your focus. All I can say about this is, "become happy". You have no choice. And if you can't make yourself happy, learn to enjoy misery. Some people do very well as tree planters, because they thrive on other peoples' misery. When people around them are miserable, they cheer up. It's a crazy world.
A second consideration is focus/motivation. The successful planter usually does not wear an iPod or plant with a "talking" friend. He or she works alone, and pays close attention to the work. If they are working with a partner, it is one with whom they are familiar and get along with, and work together to cover the land as efficiently as possible. This probably, to be successful, will include some verbal communication. One summer I worked for months with a planter named Rob Skanes. He was good at the toughest stuff, while I was good at faster land, so whenever we hit a new piece, he would head for the green areas, I would head for the good stuff, and we would split our tallies on the piece. It worked out great for both of us - we both worked hard, shared responsibilities, didn't complain about "unfair advantages", and we were happy to receive equal tallies because we worked as a team.
A third concern is physical health. You have to drink, eat, sleep, and wear enough clothing. Being tired, miserable, sore, hungry, or thirsty, are all really good ways to slow yourself down. In the short run, it is easy to skimp on sleep and food, but stress is cumulative: you will get burned out more quickly if you don't take care of yourself.
A photo of the outside of the dry tent. The dry tent has a number of clotheslines in it, and an efficient kerosene heater or propane blast heater, which will dry the planters' wet clothing overnight. Before the kerosene heaters and propane blast heaters became available, we used "air-tight" wood burning stoves. The structure of the dry tent has to be built and reinforced very strongly to handle the weight of the wet clothing of forty or fifty planters.
A photo of the inside of the dry tent. You can see clothing hanging from rope clotheslines to dry.
A kerosene heater, used to heat the dry tent. Kerosene heaters work better than propane heaters, if you have the choice, because it is more of a "dry" heat.
Physical fitness is important. Excellence in aerobic ability and excellence in brute muscular strength are not entirely necessary, however, endurance is key. Tree planting sucks energy out of you. You have to be able to develop the ability to keep working steadily. You cannot train for planting easily, unless you spend three weeks before the season starts, hiking for two hours per day with a twenty pound knapsack on.
The only truly successful planters are those who want to make money. You should not go planting solely for the experience, to see the world, or to meet people, and you should especially NOT go planting to save the environment, or to be with a boyfriend/girlfriend. Most experienced foremen will NOT hire avid environmentalists or boy/girl combinations. Some won't hire smokers.
The ability to learn is another key asset. Be open-minded and analytical. Tree planting, contrary to what some people believe, is NOT a mindless job. In fact, it is one of the most intellectually demanding jobs there is, which is why veteran planters do better than rookies. It takes time to learn. Even if you read, memorize and think about every bit of information you find in books and on the internet, there will still be things that you have to learn as a rookie which 'cannot' be taught - ie. what types of vegetation usually grow on dirt (as opposed to rock), how to know where to place your shovel to find dirt, etc. Not only do you have to watch yourself, but you have to watch others and learn, and ask your foreman for advice. If you have a good foreman, he/she will also be a good planter, and truly good foremen know that time invested in the training of planters is rewarded in the long run.
Anybody can eventually become a good planter, with concentration and determination. Some take longer than others, but all it takes is drive, focus, and the ability to learn from yourself and others. You will not be successful unless you constantly and actively try to improve your planting skills.
Anybody with a history of back, arm, knee, ankle, or neck problems should not go planting. Planting puts enormous physical stress on the body and WILL aggravate old injuries, often making them even harder to deal with (especially knee injuries). Veteran planters who spend years working in fast ground will slowly wear out their bodies, destroying tendons and ligaments. You may think to yourself that your prior knee injury from several years ago will not cause you any problems, but your body MUST be 100% to do the job well. I have seen many potential employees who brush off prior injuries because the injury hadn't caused them problems for years, and then when they started planting, the injury acted up again within days, causing them to have to quit their job. All that does is cost you a lot of money and frustration as you find yourself having to quit your new summer job, and it causes frustration for the person who hired you and started to invest a lot of time in training you. If you aren't confident in your body's ability to handle the physical demands, don't try tree planting. You don't have to be incredibly strong: I've seen 105 pound girls who can excel at planting, but that's a due to a combination of adequate health and an excellent mental attitude. However, you do have to be in absolutely great physical health.
Anybody under emotional stress should not go planting. If you have relationship hassles, depression, some kind of an existential crisis, if you're in mourning, etc., the bush is the worst possible place to deal with it.
Anyone recovering from a long-term illness should not go planting. The physical stress of planting will often break down your immune system and bring back the illness. Toward the end of a two-month stint of planting, even the healthiest folk can get sick easily.
If you're color-blind, you're going to have an extremely hard time following planted trees in summer overgrowth, and you will probably be far less successful than other planters around you. Think twice, because being color-blind will definitely negatively affect your quality, density, and earnings. Apparently, about 5% of North American males and 0.5% of North American females are red/green colorblind.
Did I emphasize strongly enough that you absolutely should NOT plant trees if you have weak knees?
People with allergies to trees and/or who have hay fever may find themselves to be fairly miserable at times. This should be pretty obvious, but some people fail to acknowledge this when applying for a job. This type of problem isn't a "deal-breaker," however. If you don't mind spending a lot of money on non-drowsy antihistamines, you can survive as a planter.
If you are allergic to bee, wasp, or hornet stings, you need to think carefully about what will happen when you are stung, hundreds of miles from the closest hospital. Getting stung by one of these insects is pretty much inevitable if you plant in July or August. If you can control your anaphalactic reaction through the use of an "epi-pen," then carrying several pens might be sufficient to mitigate this risk. But what if you're working in an area where the fastest that you can get to a hospital is five or six hours? And what if you get stung several times in the neck after opening a ground nest? If getting a sting is something which your body reacts very badly to, and even an epi-pen is not an adequate solution, you should consider a different line of work. **Note: if you think that you're going to be planting for a number of years, you'll probably assume that you'll eventually migrate to the "pros" by planting on the coast. Remember that it is very common in the fall coastal season to get caught in the heavy slash after inadvertently knocking into or opening a nest, and getting stung dozens of times. This can be a weekly occurance. There have been a number of very severe anaphalactic shock cases in the industry in the past couple of years, and the chance of a fatality is not something to be ignored.
If you can't see well without glasses, you need to think carefully about what you're getting yourself into. You can wear glasses on the block, but this can be extremely frustrating when it rains, and your glasses will definitely get badly scratched during the season. Some people wear contacts, but if you do this, wear disposables because you'll lose them occasionally, and be aware that you are sometimes planting in extremely dry and dusty conditions which aggravate your eyes, so you'll probably need to carry saline solution. Also, if your contacts come out, remember that you're working in dirt and mud all day, and it isn't generally advisable to stick dirty fingers into your eyes to adjust your contacts. Again, having less than 20:20 vision won't prevent you from being able to plant, but it will decrease your efficiency and production (and earnings) to varying degrees.
Fat people should not plant trees. I'm not kidding, and I know that this isn't very politically correct to say, but it is a very accurate generalization. How many pictures of extremely heavy people do you see on this website? Practically none, and there's a reason for it. However, having said that, you can certainly be heavyset and well-built, and as long as you have a healthy physique, you can still do pretty well at planting. I have had quite a few planters over the years who have weighed in the 220-250 pound range. The trick is to have the physique and health and motiviation to go with it. Successful planters eventually realize that efficiency and technique are very important factors in their success. If you weigh significantly more than the average Joe on the Street, you should ask yourself this question: "Will I be comfortable with working steadily in adverse temperature conditions, walking over heavy slash up and down the side of steep mountains, bending down to put a tree in the ground several thousand times, for 8-10 hours per day?" If you can honestly answer yes to this question, your weight will not be a consideration. But again, put it this way: I (Scooter) weigh 175 pounds, and for me, carrying 40 pounds of trees around the block is very tiring, to the point of daydreaming about whether I could hook helium balloons to my bags to alleviate some of the weight (I'm not kidding). What if you weigh significantly more than I do? Remember that you'll have to carry that extra body weight PLUS the 40 pounds of trees. If you're a heavy-set person and you really want to plant, try an experiment first. Find a good heavy-duty backpack, and put forty pounds of textbooks in it. Then find a steep hill. Walk up and down the hill for three hours straight, without stopping. Now decide if you'd like to do that for three times as much time, every day, all summer, including on days when it's over thirty degrees Celsius.
If you have a fear of heights, that's probably not a big deal. But you might have problems later in your career, if you last long enough to decide to try planting on the coasts. Some of the cliffs on the coast can be pretty nerve-wracking, even for people without a fear of heights.
The important thing to think about when answering these kind of hard questions is that if you lie to an interviewer or on an application, the person who you're hurting the most is yourself. Whether you like it or not, tree planting is production based, and any characteristics or attributes which have the ability to negatively affect your production will also reduce your earnings, and make you hate the job even more. Trying to hide past injuries in order to get a job may just lead to heartache for yourself, and also increase the chance of long-term injuries to your body which can affect you for years in the future. Also, if you fail to disclose a prior injury during the interview process, in most cases that can make you ineligible for Workers' Compensation benefits, so an injury resulting from this kind of scenario can be especially hard to deal with in your future.
"The best tree planters are big people." Not True. Very short people, on some blocks, may have trouble climbing through slash. Mostly though, height is irrelevant, and weight is not an issue unless you're overweight.
"Tree Planters are insane, party animals." Partly True. The younger the crowd, the more boozing. However, the best planters tend to be older, and know the physical wear and tear of booze. Where the typical night off for some companies will be a beer-fest that ends with somebody trying to drive a truck into a laundromat or steal a skidder, there are many other crews and camps that will sit back in hotel rooms and play chess, or maybe go to the pool or see a movie. Alcohol will rob you of sleep and rest, and drugs tend to unfocus most peoples' minds. These will affect your production in the long run. Then again, a crazy night of intoxicated dancing can make the memories of a bad week fade away.
"Tree Planting is Boring." Not Necessarily True. This depends on the person. Deep and intense focus on something makes time fly. Planting is no exception. Some people find planting to be painfully boring, so they plant with partners, use drugs, plant for a specific cause or goal, or do whatever else it takes to make them happy. I generally find that time flies, and after planting a box of trees, I have no idea what I've been thinking about for the past hour. But then again, I think I'd generally be happy in a brown paper bag.
"Tree Planters are ________". You can fill in the blank for whatever stereotype you are thinking of. There are lots of stereotypes about what kind of person goes planting. In general, many of them can be true. The old saying, "birds of a feather flock together" may apply. Crews or camps often seem to be made up of similar type of people, with similar attitudes.
The fuel depot. If you look carefully you can see that we place our barrels of gasoline on boards, and then dig a small ditch and berm around the area to help contain potential spills. We then put flagging tape up around the barrels to increase visibility for trucks driving up to refuel. The pump which gets fuel out of the barrels is made of metal and is more heavy-duty than the ones used to draw water from the water barrels. To help protect the environment we have a spill kit in each camp as a reactive measure, but the best approach is careful use to prevent any fuel leakage in the first place. In this particular fuel depot, as an added measure of security, the fuel barrels are stored in green plastic "envirotainers" which will catch and contain most spilled fuel. These containers are also useful in minimizing the risk of water getting into the fuel during rainy periods (and we must always keep the caps on the barrels), which is important because you'll have a major problem if contaminated fuel gets into the trucks, quads, or generators. With the industry moved predominantly to diesel-fueled trucks since around 2005, the need for large quantities of gasoline on-site has been greatly reduced. Many camps now have a pickup which carries a large "tidy-tank" of diesel, which usually contains around 450 litres of diesel fuel. This truck will fill up the tidy tank in town, and then it can be used to fuel up all of the other trucks in the camp. In that kind of situation, the fuel cache usually just holds some jerry cans of gasoline for the quads and generators.
A canopy truck, fueling up from the camp's tidy tank. A lot of the crew trucks have wooden canopy boxes on them, or "FIST" units as shown here (which stands for Forestry Insulated Seedling Transport), so boxes of trees can be moved around, yet stay cool during the transportation process.
In order to plant bare-root and plug stock seedlings, the planter must first have the necessary equipment and the appropriate work clothes. The boots should have a steel "shank" in the sole to give protection against bruising of the bottom of your foot. Many planters wear caulks (pronounced corks) in order to achieve a better grip on slippery logs and to enhance screefing capabilities.
Rain gear is very important since planters work in both good and bad weather. A rain jacket and rain pants are both necessary. Investing a little extra in rain gear will pay off in the long run - it can be frustrating to miss a day of work (and lose $150+) because of sickness or cold due to inadequate rain gear.
To carry seedlings, the planter wears a set of planting bags. The number of bags varies (usually three). Essentially, the bags serve as a storage area for the seedlings, so the planter can carry and plant a large number of trees before going to refill at the seedling cache.
"Insert" bags are used in the planting bags to protect the seedlings from heating up or drying out. They are made out of reflective material and must be closed at the top when full of trees, with the exception of your feeder bag/drawbag (the one currently in use). Wet moss or sponges usually must be kept in the bottom of these bags to keep the trees moist (although this practice is starting to disappear). I have seen times where a planter has gotten a fine for not having a drawstring closed on an insert when the weather has been snowing. This seems pretty ridiculous when you realize that having the drawbag closed does absolutely nothing for the seedlings in these kind of conditions. The requirement to have closed inserts is basically a carry-over from fifteen years ago, when planting bare-root stock was far more common, and shouldn't really be applicable today. However, we're in the business to please the customers, so if the forestry or company officials want the inserts closed, it is best to close them and don't even pay attention to the trite reasons they give. They pay us, so do what they say.
Personal tarps are made from reflective material and are used to cover your individual box of trees on the block. Boxes must be covered as specified at the pre-work conference. Rocks or logs can be used to keep the tarp from blowing off the box. A box of trees exposed to sunlight may result in a penalty to you or your crew. Note that the spring and summer seasons, because of differences in the ways that trees are delivered to the contractor, have different methods for tarping. Spring trees (over-wintered) usually need to be completely covered and tucked in on all sides. Summer trees (hot-lifted) usually need to have a tarp suspended a foot overhead, keeping sunlight off all parts of all boxes, and the boxes themselves must be opened, watered, and have all trees standing up within the boxes. I have seen several occasions over the years where a box of trees has had one bundle lying sideways in the box, and someone got a fine because of it.
Ribbon or flagging tape is used by planters to mark boundaries and is carried either in a pouch, in the planting bag, or in the planter's pocket.
A plot cord is an essential piece of planting equipment. Planters are usually not allowed to plant without one. The only way a planter can maintain proper spacing over time is by regularly checking samples of their planting density using the plot cord. This cord is 3.99 metres long and is made of rope, wire, chain, etc. (preferably clothesline).
The shovel is the major tool in planting and should be comfortable to use. The shovel should not be too long or too short. If the shovel is not comfortable, it will hinder the planter's production. There are two different types. The "D" handle is the most preferred handle used by planters in BC/Alberta. The straight handle (a staff shovel) should be used by planters feeling tightness in the wrist caused by repetition (commonly known as tenosynovitis). It is used in rocky ground to cope with the shock of striking a rock when making a tree hole. However, despite the medical validity of using this kind of shovel, practically nobody uses them in BC. They're just too big and heavy carry around comfortably.
There are also several different blade types for shovels. There is the "standard" tree planter shovel. There is the plug shovel, which has a shorter blade length. This name is kind of irrelevant nowadays, since almost all stock planted is now plug stock, rather than bare-root. And finally, there is the spear, a narrower blade which is helpful when planting seedlings in rocky ground. This type of shovel is also almost extinct nowadays.
Now that you have a brief overview of some of the equipment required, let's go into a bit more detail. It would be easy to write an entire book about the pros and cons of different equipment that is available. There are as many options as there are planters. This section will briefly give you something to think about, and some clothing suggestions. The tree planter works in all possible conditions. Accordingly, you will have to bring gear to the block with you that will deal with the three major problems: TEMPERATURE, WEATHER, and BUGS.
Boots can generally be divided into two types: rubber and leather (or waterproof and not waterproof). To increase your comfort level with all boots, you should use insoles (wash them regularly), wear two or more pairs of socks, and buy boots big enough so that two pairs of socks and insoles fit well. Boots should not be too tight or too loose.
Leather work boots, once broken in, are generally quite comfortable. They will last a long time if you clean them regularly and put shoe-wax on them. Clean them every day off (wipe off mud, etc.). If you buy leather boots, you MUST break them in before you go planting by wearing them around for a few weeks. If you don't, you will be sorry (blisters, and maybe a few non-productive days). Leather boots usually will not keep your feet dry in the rain (although you can wear a baggie or bread bag between layers of socks on each foot). If you can get them cheap, army surplus cadet boots (with steel toe and sole) work well. Otherwise, buy CSA approved steel toe-and-shank (sole) work boots. On many contracts, you will not be allowed to work unless you have the steel toe and shank in your footwear.
Leather hiking boots are the most comfortable footwear known to man. Once broken in, they are paradise for the feet. However, the tree planter will be doing some screefing with his/her feet, which will ruin good hiking boots very quickly. More modern forms of hiking boot, such as GoreTex or day hikers, are useless. GoreTex loses its water resistance when it gets dirty. Fancy designs with multiple panels of leather, plastic components, etc. will wear out very quickly. I would strongly advise against buying cheap hiking boots because they wear out too fast (unless you want a pair for just lounging around camp and town).
Rubber boots can be good because they keep your feet dry, which is critical! There are several kinds of rubber boots available. Chainsaw boots (commonly called "caulks," although this term technically refers to the spikes on the bottom of the boot, not the type of boot itself) are orange, with chainsaw matting over the shin. These have steel toe and shank, and are fairly heavy. Some people recommend that you avoid these type of boots, but I've worn them for many seasons, and been happy with them.
Lace-ups are a boot of choice for many BC planters. They are comfortable, easy to put on/take off, and available with or without caulks (pronounced "corks"). The best kind seem to be the Viking brand. You get what you pay for - these boots may not last a full spring and summer season. Don't forget to buy extra laces.
Work boots, which are rubber boots without laces, but with steel toe and shank, can work well. They also last quite a while, and don't cost too much. However, the fact that they don't lace means you float around inside them, which is uncomfortable to some people.
Viberg boots are expensive ($300 and up), but well worth it: you get leather/rubber mix, superb quality, comfort, and durability. These are among the best work boots available.
Plastic boots are also available, with a number of brand names such as Koflach, Kastingers, or Scarpas. These are kind of like cut-off ski boots, and are light, warm, and fairly waterproof if worn with gaiters. The hefty price ($250-$400 or more) scares away many people, as it should. I would not recommend these for rookies, although some high-end planters may be better off with them, depending on their personal preference. You can also have a pair resoled to take caulks, which makes them a great boot.
About caulks: "corks," as they are pronounced, are little metal spikes which are found on the bottom of some boots. They are very useful if you are doing a lot of screefing with your feet (low priced land), or if you are on steep, wet ground with a lot of slash, to prevent you from slipping on logs. I would most strongly recommend boots with caulks to every planter who is planting tougher ground in BC. Bring some extra caulks (about fifteen cents each) and a wrench to the bush with you. Also, make sure you have a pair of hiking boots for town use, because you'll get yelled at if you try wearing caulked boots into most gas stations, convenience stores, etc. However, if you are planting mostly treated ground, or easy raw ground in BC, or especially if you are working mostly in easy/prepped ground in Alberta, caulked boots are far less important. Boots with caulks installed on them are also heavier, which can be a consideration. Why waste energy wearing a heavy pair of boots if the conditions that you're planting in are appropriate for a lighter pair?
Socks are also very important. Buy a dozen pairs of light polypropylene work socks, and a dozen pairs of wool/nylon blend thick work socks. The light ones obviously go on first, with the wool on the outside. This setup keeps you from getting blisters, and these types of socks keep your feet semi-dry when you sweat, and are warm when wet. Cotton socks are useless because they stay wet, and are cold when wet. When buying wool socks, try for an 80% wool and 20% nylon mix, which will last longer. Bama socks, or other types of polyethylene liners, are also excellent. You don't want tight boots, but if your boots are too loose, you'll find that you wear holes in your socks quite quickly.
Planting pants need to do two things: keep sun and branches off your legs, and keep the bugs out. A light, baggy pair of cotton pants (or cotton long johns worn with an old pair of shorts over top) works well in dry weather. Your pants will get destroyed in two months, so don't buy expensive army surplus pants. Go to the Salvation Army and get several pairs of the tackiest secondhand five-dollar pants you can find. For hot and bug-free days, a ragged pair of thigh-length shorts is nice. Some planters even wear shorts almost constantly, however, when I see the discomfort that they suffer with snow and bugs, and the multiple lacerations (which, when bleeding, attract the bugs even more), it makes people wonder about their general sanity. But with a lot of bug sprays, I've often been most comfortable in seasons when I just wore shorts all season.
As far as shirts are concerned, bring a couple of ratty black T-shirts and a baggy black cotton turtleneck. The T-shirts keep you cool, while a turtleneck (or any long-sleeved baggy work shirt) is good for keeping the bugs away. A heavy jacket is also useful for cold mornings at the end of April and first half of May.
The hat is an essential item. Without a sunhat, you are much more susceptible to getting a sunburn or sunstroke, and tired and miserable. On rainy days, it doubles in function by keeping some of the water out of your eyes (a ball cap is indispensable on rainy days if you wear glasses - and while I'm on the topic, as a person who wore both contacts and glasses for over ten years while planting, until I had laser eye surgery, I would advise that you probably shouldn't wear contacts on the block, for first aid and health reasons, although many people do). The best thing to use is a broad-brimmed cotton or canvas sunhat that is dark colored, which will keep the rain and sun out of your eyes and ears - baseball hats and bandannas are also acceptable. Keeping the sun out of your eyes reduces eyestrain and makes you less tired at the day's end - this is important because planting with sunglasses has proven to be unfeasible (you can't see well into the holes that you are making).
Bear in mind that when you plant you cannot afford to sit in a warm van just because it is raining. In fact, your foreman may threaten to lock the doors to the trucks, to keep you working out on the block. You have to continue to work, while trying to keep dry and warm. If you can't stay dry, you still need to stay warm. Cotton based clothing is cold when it gets wet, so don't wear it in the rain. I will try to describe one good rain gear system in the rest of this section:
Louis Garneau polypro cycling tights - the durable, heavy duty kind, not the softer Lycra version. Wear them with a pair of cutoffs over top to minimize chaffing from your planting bags, and to provide pockets. These are thicker than regular polypro underwear and resist tearing by branches and snags. They keep the black flies out, and the baggy cycling ass is useful to the planter who spends his or her whole day bending down to plant. These are about forty dollars at Mountain Equipment Co-Op, but well worth it. You can also use spandex or polypro underwear, but these will rip more easily. You can wear these on dry, cool days as well, with an old pair of cut-off thigh-length jeans over top. Of course, depending on the time of year, a short-based rain gear system may not be appropriate due to the cold. If you wish to go with something more conventional, you can go with a pair of normal long underwear, and a pair of standard rainpants (Canadian Tire has some nice black pairs) over the top. If you use these rainpants, which cost about $25, be prepared to bring a few pairs, since they will get destroyed after several weeks of regular use.
A thin shirt made of non-cotton materials such as polypro, LIFA, etc. A wool sweater over top is great, and the polypro underneath reduces the itching. Like the tights, this is warm when wet and quick-drying. You can use long underwear tops, cycling shirts, or outdoor shirts sold at Mountain Equipment or climbing stores. Actually, wool is absolutely wonderful material for your clothing, because of the way that it holds heat when it gets wet, and it still breathes.
Reinforced rubber rain jacket and pants. The pants can have suspenders, or even better, a properly-fitting elastic waistband. The jacket should be tough, reinforced rubber. Used when it rains very heavily; in light or occasional rain you can plant wearing only a polypro shirt and pants, which will dry in minutes. Other good heavy rain gear is PVC. If you buy rain gear, make sure it's reinforced. Straight plastic or rubber will shred within minutes of you getting out on the block. Good rain gear can cost over $100, but might last a couple seasons and will keep you dry and warm. Some planters like to use a heavy rubber poncho over a synthetic layer (and they accept wet feet), since this system allows considerable freedom of movement.
Should I buy Gore-Tex type rain gear? Gore-Tex is the outdoor person's miracle substance. However, its efficiency when planting is not certain, because planting tends to get you dirty, and dirty GoreTex does not work efficiently. GoreTex is also vulnerable to tearing by snags, etc. If you are planting in the Interior, or anywhere where there's infrequent rain, you might be able to use it, but if you've graduated to planting true coastal work, look around you and see what the other planters recommend.
A water bottle is indispensable. You can drink as much as twelve litres of water (or more) on hot days. Although it is possible to buy fairly inexpensive coolers (about $15-20) which hold a gallon and keep it moderately cool, planters should also consider bringing several old two litre plastic pop bottles. These are universally available, and very strong, to withstand bouncing around in the back of the truck. The only drawback with these is that once empty, someone else on the crew might throw it in the garbage. Another approach is to use the empty four-litre milk jugs from the kitchen, which are almost as strong as two-litre pop bottles, and hold twice as much. In addition, there is usually a constant supply of them from the kitchen throughout the season. Planters should ALWAYS be aware of how much water they bring to the block. Although your foreman will try to get you more water if you run out during the day, it is often impossible for him or her to magically come up with more fresh, clean water when on the block. And if the rest of the crew is depending on the presence of the foreman to bring trees and ensure that planting proceeds smoothly, he/she often cannot afford a long trip to camp to get more. ALWAYS take more than you think you can use.
A pack is also essential for carrying all of your little treasures: duct-tape, boxtops, lunch, Tylenol, a knife, suntan lotion, extra flagging tape, a thermos, etc. And a tip for using a thermos: pre-heat it by leaving a bit of hot water in it for five minutes. Dump this out and then add your coffee/tea/whatever. This can make a huge difference.
Planting Bags: You can buy these at IRL in Prince George, at Canadian Forestry Equipment in Edmonton, or Nevill Crosby in Vancouver. Make sure that the waistbelt fits, since it carries most of the weight. BushPro now sells an add-on thicker waistbelt for their bags which I would recommend highly. If you buy used bags, make sure they aren't ripped or frayed, and make sure the buckles close and the belt and straps adjust. New bags are $60 to $90, used for $30 to $40. Avoid stiff-bottomed (tray-bottom) bags. Bags should have plastic clip-together buckles (pretty much standard nowadays), not metal weave-through. Make sure that the part that will rub against your thighs does not have seams and protruding material that will irritate your skin and ruin pants. WorkWizer also has planting bags which have a comfortable shoulder strap system, although there were many reports in 2007 that these bags fell apart more easily than the BushPro bags. BushPro have been making planting bags the longest.
Conventional medical logic dictates that rookies should not buy a D-handle. Staves (or staffs) are much better for your body, although their extra length and lack of anything to clip your bags onto makes for a pain in the ass when dealing with helicopter blocks. However, despite the fact that a staff is theoretically easier on your wrist, EVERYBODY uses D-Handle shovels. The standard D-Handle planting shovel has a tempered-steel blade (made by either Carrant or BushPro or WorkWizer) that is about a foot long and between four and six inches wide. Shovels cost about $50-70 new, and if you see new ones for much less, avoid them because they will break when you are hundreds of miles from your nearest hardware store. Many pairs of planters will buy a second shovel to have as a backup, just in case. The cost of having an extra shovel far outweighs the despair of missing a day of earnings because you don't have a backup. Don't count on your foreman to have an extra shovel for you. In 2007, BushPro introduced a new D-Handle shovel with some sort of aluminum or metal shaft, rather than the old fiberglass type, and this type of shovel has stood up very well to date.
As mentioned above, there is a recurring debate as to which kind of shovel (Staff vs. D-Handle) is better. On the face of it, a D-handle is better. It feels more natural than a staff. The handle gives you leverage for twisting, and its length is more comfortable than the length of the staff. It feels like a "normal" shovel. In stores that sell planting gear, there are always far more D-handles to choose from than staves, leading many planters to think that the D is the way to go. However, the D can theoretically lead to physical problems, such as tendonitis and bursitis. Tendonitis (and bursitis, which is related) affect people who use certain muscle groups in repetitive ways. People who type, use adding machines or power tools, and tree planters are the largest affected groups. The tendon is the tissue that joins a muscle to a bone. The tendon is wrapped in a sheath of protective tissue. When a muscle gout is over-used in a repetitive way, the tendon can inflame the sheath by rubbing against it. This causes the sheath to swell, which results in the creaking sound and feel of tendonitis, swelling, pain, stiffness, and sometimes immobility of the affected part. The treatment for acute inflammatory tendonitis is immobilization with support and moist heat (definitely not ice packs). This means that the planter who is severely affected can be out of work for days or weeks. If you think it would be great to go on Workers Compensation and spend the last six weeks of your planting season on a beach somewhere, think again. Tendonitis often leads to scarring, which has to be surgically removed, and which requires extensive physiotherapy to get you back up to speed. Some types of tendonitis of the knee, elbow, and shoulder can never fully recover.
If you lay your palm flat against the outside of your thigh, your entire arm is in what is known as the "anatomically neutral" position. This means that there is no stress or extension on any ligaments, muscle groups, or tendons in your arm. Now, if you turn your hand so that its palm lies flat on the front of your thigh, you are holding your hand OUT of the anatomically neutral position. This means that your tendons and muscles are extended.
Muscles and tendons are like any other material: they have a limited (though, in the long term variable) capacity to absorb and/or transmit stress. When you hold your hand out of anatomical position, you decrease the "slack" or excess absorptive capacity in your arm. This means that when you plant with a D-handled shovel, you are in effect overloading the tendons and muscles in your arm, because you are transmitting kinetic energy through your arm (from slamming the shovel into the ground) and through muscles and tendons that are already extended. Imagine something like a climbing rope, rubber band, or bike tire. When these materials are not stretched out, or only partially stretched, they have a large capacity to absorb shock. However, when they are stretched taut, the same amount of force can tear or puncture them. Your muscles work in a roughly similar way. A staff shovel helps by making you use your arm in an anatomically neutral position because of the way that you hold the staff, not like a handle which is at a ninety-degree angle to neutral position. This means that you will transmit stress through your muscles and tendons which are not in an extended position. A staff also (most importantly) allows your hand to slide along the shaft when the shovel hits hard ground (especially rocks), whereas a D-handle transmits that energy directly into your arm, which hurts and causes damage over time.
The debate between a Staff shovel vs. a D-Handle is a very debatable subject. I personally expect to use a D-handle for the rest of my life, but then again, I've planted for a lot of seasons and I'm fairly set in my ways. Almost every planter I've met in Western Canada prefers a D-Handle. The Workers' Compensation Board strongly recommends a staff shovel, but balance this recommendation against what is predominant within the industry.
Planting shovels come pre-made in standard configurations, however, some planters modify their shovels by having a metal shop or hardware store change the shape of the blade. You can shorten a blade, change its shape, and saw off one of the kickers. Rookies need not bother with this, until they have some experience and know how blade changes can benefit them. Be careful not to shorten your blade too much. I've occasionally had planters pulled off the block by checkers because their blades did not meet minimum length requirements (established because most checkers figure that a shorter blade leads to j-roots, a theory which does have some merit). However, there has definitely been a clear trend in the last few years towards shorter shafts on the shovels, so they weigh less. Some people find that being bent over all the time, with a shorter shovel, gives them greater efficiency. Just don't cut it too short right away - take the time to use it for a bit, and just shorten it a few inches at a time until you find a length that you like.
Where To Buy Gear
Camping gear can be bought pretty much anywhere. You can get crappy stuff very cheaply at Canadian Tire, K-Mart, etc. I would recommend buying decent camping gear because it will last and make your life more comfortable. For better camping equipment, there are some upscale places around. Mountain Equipment Co-Op has stores in Toronto (416-363-0122), Ottawa (613-745-1094), Vancouver (604-872-7858), and Calgary (403-269-2420). Their mail order number is 1-800-663-2667. If you want to get a high-quality tent, sleeping bag, etc., MEC is probably the best place in Canada to buy it. You can also get other stuff quite cheaply at MEC, such as outdoor clothing, and items such as knives can be much cheaper than in jewelry stores or independent retailers. MEC is a co-op, so you have to be a member to shop there, which is only $5 for life.
You can get cheap clothing at thrift stores (the Salvation Army, Interfaith Thrift, Frenchy's, etc.). Mark's Work Wearhouse/Work World sells quality stuff like pants, socks, and pile outerwear for reasonable prices. Some of the clothing mentioned above can be bought at MEC or other outdoor places. You would do well to buy cheap stuff, because your clothes will get dirty, abused, and destroyed in the bush. Don't load up at Eddie Bauer or J.Crew or L.L. Bean. Tree planting is not a fashion show. You're doing the job solely because you want more money at the end of the summer. So don't spend money that you don't need to at the start.
Shovels, bags, silvicool tarps/bags, caulk boots, and rain gear can be bought in Vancouver from Neville Crosby International. BushPro no longer has a retail store, so you have to visit Neville Crosby, the BushPro dealer. Neville-Crosby is located at 445 Terminal Avenue, Vancouver, about a five minute walk from the bus station. Their toll-free number is 1-800-663-6733. The Prince George Neville Crosby is at 250-564-9166. The Smithers store is at 250-847-4489. In Edmonton, the main forestry supplier is Canadian Forestry Equipment at 403-484-6687, and their order number is 1-800-661-7959. In Prince George, I think that your best bet is to go to Industrial Reproductions Limited (IRL), which has absolutely everything that a planter needs. Finally, there is also a chain of stores in BC called Surplus Herbie's (stores in Williams Lake, Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna, Vancouver, and maybe elsewhere) which has camping gear and often planting stuff as well. And of course there is always the old standby for generic camping equipment, Canadian Tire, which is located just about everywhere.
The outside of the first aid tent. Nobody is allowed to store gear in here (except for first aid equipment) or sleep in here. It must be kept fully stocked and in perfect condition at all times, ready for an emergency. Remember, the life it saves could be yours!
A group of planters watching a first-aid simulation. Our first aid attendents perform regular simulations during the season to ensure that they and the equipment are ready to handle emergencies.
Here's a photo taken inside one of our first aid rooms. On the right you can see large wooden boxes full of supplies. The room will include items such as the spine board, stretcher, blankets, oxygen bottles and regulators, etc. Other boxes are full of other supplies such as bandages, etc. Rather than have different types of first aid rooms that conform to the proper provincial specifications in each province, we have one general setup that will meet or exceed regulations everywhere.
Bugs or Insects:
The best way to deal with bugs is with clothing. Long sleeved shirts, long pants, and maybe a bug hat. DEET is evil and deadly stuff, very toxic, and is an important ingredient in almost all bug repellents. I love it, although I'm sure that a decade of using it regularly has probably made me sterile. Most spray type repellents only contain 15-30% DEET, whereas the little containers of liquid that you rub on your skin are generally 75% to 95% DEET. Muskol and Deep Woods in liquid are 95% DEET, and the most effective repellents. I swear by DEET, have used it in mass quantities for years, and would die without it, but then again, I'll probably have mutant children someday. DEET can cause severe allergic reactions in some people, and in others it simply burns the skin, etc. DEET has also been known to melt plastic and parts of your planting equipment. Some people say that Skin So Soft and Citronella are effective, but that theory is mostly incorrect when dealing with significant numbers of bugs. Besides, if you use those products, you'll probably smell so good that you'll attract bears.
The biggest problem with bugs is mental. Bugs can be just incredible if it is your first time up north. You can look up and see so many bugs directly above you that they look thicker than stars in the sky when you're out on the ocean at night. At the worst time of the year, you can look at a planter standing still on a landing and count literally hundreds of mosquitoes on their back, especially if they are wearing dark clothing. Some people are bothered more by the incessant buzzing than by the actual bites. Every person deals with them differently, though most just use lots of DEET, long clothing, and try to ignore the noise.
Bees, Wasps, and Hornets:
Stings are painful and may cause an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can be fatal in some cases. Be aware of potential nesting sites. Watch for swarms of insects, obvious nests, and nest entrances at the base of stumps and in fallen logs. Seek immediate treatment for all stings, especially if you may have a family history of adverse reactions. Carry bee sting treatment swabs to reduce the pain of the sting. Ensure that a bee sting kit and antihistamines are available on site, or carried on your person if you know that you are allergic to stings. These kits generally have a couple antihistamines and a needle with adrenaline. Inform your employer and the first aid attendant of known allergies. Some people may have dozens of stings in their life with no problems, then all of a sudden get stung one day and experience significant swelling, unlike previous incidents.
Black Flies, Mosquitoes, and No-See-Ums:
Bites can cause irritation. Multiple bites may cause swelling, particularly around the eyes and lips. Inhaling insects can cause discomfort (but get used to it). Use insect repellent. Keep shirts tightly buttoned. Close pant legs by tucking them into your socks, or by sealing them with tape. In extreme cases, use a mask to prevent inhalation of insects if they are present in swarms. Seek first aid for excessive swelling.
Deer and Horse Flies:
Painful bites, can cause swelling. Use insect repellent. Keep shirts tightly buttoned. Close pant legs by tucking them into your socks, or by sealing them with tape. Seek first aid for excessive swelling. Some of these flies don't seem to be bothered by DEET, and are active during sunny, high-heat periods when other smaller flies give it a rest.
Facilitate transfer of disease, particularly food borne diseases. Follow camp sanitation guidelines.
The insect can become embedded in the skin, transferring disease or infection. Use insect repellent. Keep shirts tightly buttoned. Close pant legs by tucking them into your socks, or by sealing them with tape. Check yourself daily for ticks (especially in the folds of the skin, hair lines, the back of the neck, and the belt line). Seek first aid. Do not attempt to remove ticks by pulling or prying, as their heads will break off under your skin.
Although you can't see it too well, this is the "dish pit." This is where the dirty "grey water" goes, such as the run-off after washing dishes, etc. This pit (which we dig several feet deep) gets covered up with a few sheets of plywood, and then gets fenced off with high-visibility flagging tape, as a safety precaution. You wouldn't want to fall into this pit!
A type of enclosed trailer, used to store garbage until it goes to the dump. This particular type of trailer (the Triton) is weather-proof, rodent-proof, and in my experience, bear-proof.
Bringing a Vehicle:
The main reason to bring a vehicle is to have somewhere other than a tent to sleep in (a van or station wagon). An old van with a stereo, bug screens on the windows, some carpet, swivel front seats, and a big bed can make for comfortable evenings, especially if you are sharing living accommodations. It's also a lot drier than a tent, and it gives you incredible freedom. On days off, if you rely on the crew truck, you tend to spend the day sitting around in the laundromat parking lot: waiting, waiting, and waiting. I have yet to meet a foreman who can efficiently organize fifteen planters on a day off. A vehicle allows you to go fishing, hiking, or just hide and sleep somewhere. Also, if you have to leave a contract early because you have a mental breakdown, the crew vehicles are sometimes not available immediately, as tree-running for the rest of the working crew has priority. Finally, during the spring break, having a vehicle can mean the difference between a boring weeks in a campground (albeit fairly cheap), or a weeks of having a great time (albeit expensive).
Costs of bringing a vehicle are significant. Gas will add up, depending on how much you drive. Considering how quickly fuel prices have been increasing in the past couple of years (and will continue to increase), that's probably one of the biggest deterrants to bringing your own vehicle. Plan on putting about 3,000 km/month on it if you use it on nights off, etc. You'll also have to face the possibility of it breaking down, and you either have to abandon it, and deal with all the stuff you've accumulated, or fix it, which can cost a lot of money. The costs of running a vehicle while planting are astronomical ... I would strongly suggest that only veteran highballers consider using one. The expenses just aren't worth it unless you are making at least $15,000+ per season. Rookies: no.
If you are definitely bringing a vehicle, get a membership in some sort of automobile association. The key thing to look at is their towing plans. Chances are, you will need it. Some plans do not allow towing from dirt roads, so you'll have to get your wreck out to the highway. Other plans are only good for short distances (ie. 50kms or less), while some good ones may be used for several hundred kilometres. Also, know your vehicle mechanically. If you drive a VW, have your tools and your manual and be prepared to use them. If you don't know how to change a tire and your fuel/air/oil filters by yourself, there is no way you should bring a vehicle into the bush. In fact, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Preventative maintenance pays. Check your belts, tires, plugs, fluids (oil and coolant), lights, and shocks before you go. Buy jumper cables so someone can boost you after you leave the ignition or radio on too long. Have TWO spare tires, or even three if possible. Have a thick, long tow rope. Have an electric tire pump and splice some extra wire into the cord so it can reach several meters away from your cigarette lighter. The single most important thing you can do for your vehicle is to change the oil regularly, that is, every six or seven thousand kilometres. If you are deep into dirt (dust) roads, in June or later when it is dry, change your air filter frequently. Do not take foreign vehicles far north of Prince George. You cannot get parts easily.
Planters having a meal inside a WeatherHaven mess tent.
Another photo of the inside of a WeatherHaven (characterized by the semi-circle structure). The mess tent may be used for eating, relaxing after supper, or camp meetings. There will usually be a bulletin board in some part of the tent (not visible in this photo), which is used to post important emergency response information, as well as standard safety information and other items.
A photo showing the outside of a WeatherHaven mess tent.
A photo inside the mess tent showing part of the lunch preparation area.
Bringing a Pet:
A lot of people like to bring pets, usually dogs. Being a dog owner and dog lover (don't confuse this with "dog-fucker"), this is a topic of particular concern to me. I have never brought my city dog (Dakota) out planting, and never would. Planting can be very hard on a dog, due to heat, mosquitoes, exhaustion, and more heat. Dogs frequently get killed in the bush, whether from shock, animal encounters, and most frequently, being run over by vehicles in camp. The financial and time requirements of taking care of your pet are also enormous. You will lose significant amounts of planting time (only a little each day, but it adds up), ensuring that the dog does not cook on hot days, and making sure they always have a source of relatively clean water. WCB does not allow dogs to ride in the cab of the vehicle with the planters, and often the back of the crew truck is a dangerous place for an animal, or full of trees and gear, so you must bring a carrier. I would strongly, strongly advise planters NEVER to bring a dog. Many foremen will not let you bring the dog to the block, and many supervisors will not permit them in camp because of the mess they make when they go to the bathroom everywhere, and annoy other planters with their barking. Play it safe - ask your foreman or supervisor before you plan on bringing a pet to the workplace.
The outside of the shower trailer. Some people use these nightly, while others ignore them until the night off, either in the belief that the bugs are less attracted to you when you smell like the bush (it appears to be quite true), or because they're too tired after supper.
Stalls within the shower trailer. In some companies, you'll have a shower tent set up rather than a portable trailer.
The rest of this page consists mainly of several more random photos that I've taken around our camp sites, just to give you a better idea of the background of our living environment:
A mobile radio. Almost all of our trucks have these units, which are programmed for about a hundred channels. They are used mainly for safety reasons on active logging roads where all traffic is radio-tracked, and also for communication between crews. In selected areas, they can even be used as mobile telephones and tap into the normal North American telephone network, although the number of radio channels still active has been reduced rapidly in the past several years as cellular phones are getting wider coverage.
A sign warning drivers to slow down because there is a bush camp ahead. We like to carry a couple of these and put them on the main road on either side of our camp, for safety reasons, which can be especially appropriate on some busy logging roads.
A photo showing a random tent. Everyone lives in tents, and it's a good idea to get a good tarp to hang over your tent, to help keep the rain from getting in. And always set up your tent on high ground! Many a heartache has been caused by sudden rainstorms, for planters who thought it would be a good idea to set up their tent "down by the creek."
Gas powered generators. We use these to power the kitchen, the pressure pump, the supervisor's office, lights and television in the mess tent, and to charge the batteries for the handheld radios. Some companies used propane powered generators.
A satellite dish, used for the high-speed internet connection in camp. Just don't make the mistake of setting up the camp in the trees in a position such that you can't pick up the satellite signal! Most camps will run the internet into a wireless router, so everyone can access the internet from their laptops if they are in the immediate area of the router (which is usually set up in the kitchen or a similar central area in camp).
The safety bulletin board in the mess tent. This board is used for posting material safety data and WHMIS sheets as required by WCB, and other items such as minutes of safety meetings, the company's health and safety policy statements, etc.
Two propane tanks, powering the stoves in the cook shack. Note that the front one is dug into the ground a couple feet to prevent it from tipping over. This safety practice is required by the worker's compensation board (WCB) and the tanks are also usually required to be tied to a secure structure with a piece of rope (the rope should really be tied up in this photo, even though the tanks are dug two feet deep into the ground). I remember one WCB inspector that said if he could hit them with a full shoulder rugby tackle, and they didn't move, he would say they were appropriately secured. The only problem is that sometimes we're on rock hard landings and we can't dig holes.
Planters forming a chain to pass boxes from a delivery truck into a shaded cache area.
Finally, if you want to get a better understanding of camp life in a tree planting camp, check out this video, which is one of twenty YouTube videos that can be accessed from our training page at: www.Replant.ca/training