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Lucknow tree planter tells of her experiences during Huron Fringe Field Naturalists meeting

By: Christine Roberts
December 3, 2017
 
 

Members of the Huron Fringe Field Naturalist club were treated to an inside look at the life of a seasonal tree planter, during the regular meeting Tuesday evening at Pine River United Church.

Lucknow native Liz Miltenburg and friend, Todd Devlin, provided an educational and entertaining presentation based on their experiences in the British Columbian interior this past spring and summer.

Miltenburg, daughter of club member, Jayne Miltenburg, is a student at the University of Western Ontario, and credits her rural upbringing and love of outdoors for her willingness to forgo the many modern luxuries we take for granted to work in forestry. Previously, she had planted trees in northern Ontario and Manitoba.

To give some context, they provided background information on the Canadian forestry industry which sells $63-billion in forestry products annually and is the second largest exporter worldwide. Approximately 780,000 hectares of trees are harvested annually and of that, 50-55 per cent is reforested. The industry is highly regulated and all plans must receive government approval.

Miltenburg and Devlin worked inland for Celtic Reforestation, starting near Williams Lake (fortunately, before the fires) and moved north to the MacKenzie and Prince George areas.

The basic compensation structure of the job is payment per tree, based on number of trees planted in a day. Rates per tree varied from 11 cents to 25 cents, depending on the type of tree (balsam fir, pine or spruce), and difficulty of planting conditions.

A tree planter averages between 500 and 3,000 trees/day, working a 10-hour day in a three-month season from spring to mid-August. A normal work cycle consists of four days planting and one day off.

Their description of daily life in a reforestation camp elicited many expressions of surprise and admiration from the audience. A camp is a gathering of several crews of 12-18 people each. Workers provide their own tents and equipment, including dishes and work clothes, and pay a daily camp fee for food and facilities, such as portable toilets, showers and laundry. Meals are prepared by cooks in a kitchen trailer and eaten in a mess hall.

A typical day begins at 5:30 am with a hot breakfast and travel to the “block” of the day. Miltenburg modeled tree-planting gear, consisting of three bags attached to a harness: one on either side to carry trees with a third utility bag in the back and a short shovel. Once on site, planters loaded 300-400 trees in the bags and set out with a partner.

Devlin demonstrated tree-planting technique while Miltenburg explained the rigorous criteria for spacing and planting. Unsatisfactory work was redone with no compensation.

Miltenburg and Devlin found the experience of living rough and “unplugged” challenging, and the work physically demanding but cited the positives of working closely with a diverse, often international, team in beautiful settings while performing a valuable function.

Club members were charmed by the pair’s enthusiasm and asked many questions afterward. The club appreciated gaining personal perspective into a difficult job.

The Huron Fringe Field Naturalists go on winter hiatus until the photo contest and potluck lunch meeting, Feb. 27, 2018, at 11:30 a.m. at Pine River United Church.
 

Liz Miltenburg (left) models the tree-planting harness and shovel, with friend, Todd Devlin, at the Huron Fringe Field Naturalists meeting; photo by Christine Roberts

 

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