Warning: Some facts are empirical, based on experience like you should not eat Tide Pods even if they look good to eat. Other facts are hypothetical, sometimes involving projections like the number of seedlings we could plant in 2020 in B.C. Both kinds of facts may be present in this issue.
BCTS/Ministry Seeking Information from Nurseries as Major Reforestation Increases Projected
BCTS and MFLNRORD are seeking information from seedling nurseries in an effort to gauge their current status and capacity and the opportunities they see to increase production. This unusual request comes as planners consider an unprecedented increase in surveying, sowing and planting that could see more than 300-million seedlings planted in 2020 and 2021. This projected increase is at least 40-million seedlings per year greater than current reforestation efforts. Making the leap to planting levels as high or higher than we have ever seen may be largely dependent on the nursery sector’s ability to manage more seedlings.
The demand is driven by a confluence of government funding, federal and provincial climate change goals, and recent disaster. Out of last year’s fires in B.C. more than 1.2 million hectares burned in total with 700,000 hectares lost out of the timber harvest land base (THLB). Of that, along with special habitat and other lands outside the THLB, our provincial government is estimating at least 200,000 hectares will require planting over the next decade. This undertaking on its own is challenging requiring coordination and planning at a landscape level and cooperation and communication between various land managers including First Nations, government agencies and licensees. But federal reforestation and restoration matching funding up to $160-million available through the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund is short-lived expiring in three years.
Managing the planning and investment distortions created by that federal imperative is very much on the minds of planners and forestry owners at the moment. It is the reason for the possible two-year episode of the industry having to reach for more than 300-million seedlings annually. What comes after that peak is potentially problematic as the demand is forecast to drop with business investments possibly sitting idle. Meanwhile it’s been years since we have seen the likes of this kind of federal investment in forestry. For that matter the same applies to the province to some extent. Nevertheless it is needed and welcome. But ideally, the money and planning would flow more evenly, not requiring the possible feats of contortion the reforestation sector, including government planners, may have to perform to meet potential targets. However, since the federal funding is shorter term, it is one of the reasons more than one scenario is being considered. It’s also the reason the WFCA is working closely with government planners. It is widely held now that we need to set our sails for the political funding winds blowing and take advantage of whatever we can reasonably undertake. It is uncertain when we might see this chance again. To see the BCTS REI go to bcbid.gov.bc.ca
Minimum Wage Rises, Meanwhile Planting Rate Index Stays Sunk in 2017
The minimum wage was raised $1.30 today in British Columbia to $12.65 per hour. It will be raised again this time next year to $13.95 with two more annual increases until it reaches $15.20 in year 2021. But already silviculture employers have to be thinking how this will affect their businesses and markets for their services. Workers are paid by the number of trees they plant in a day. Nevertheless, regulation still requires they are paid at least minimum wage for their hours worked. If their production doesn’t equal the minimum wage then their employer is obliged to make up the difference. This wage top up can add up to tens of thousands of dollars to an employer’s overall payroll as new workers take time to gain enough training, experience and conditioning on the job to earn more than minimum wage as piece-workers. Employers hiring large numbers of inexperienced workers are hit the hardest. These ongoing raises to minimum wage will further increase their costs.
But the minimum wage raises have other implications for employers and workers. In the 2015 Silviculture Labour Market Report commissioned by the BC Silviculture Workforce Initiative surveyors found a large majority of planters reported their piece-work earnings worked out to around $16 per hour earned in ten to 12-hour days. Some workers reported earning more than twice that. But they accounted for only ten percent of those interviewed. What the report’s findings suggest is that the minimum wage is making a substantial gain on what average planters might be earning as piece workers. This could eliminate the incentive to produce. Or just as bad for the industry, they may look for work elsewhere.
This distressing outlook isn’t helped by the two-decade downward trend of the planting rate index. We create it by dividing the annual WorkSafeBC assessable earnings reported from employers by the number of trees planted in each corresponding year. That quotient was just under 30 cents per tree in 2000. It has sunk almost steadily since, landing at 24.6 cents per tree last year. At the same time value has leaked out of dollars earned. To have kept par with inflation since 2000 the index should be over 41 cents today. Admittedly this is a blunt instrument for estimating earnings. But it is at least circumstantial evidence showing that the potential to earn the premium wages needed to keep the piece-work system working i.e., recruiting and retaining productive workers, is pointing the wrong way.
Beau Geste Tree Planting Kepi Proves Popular and Preventative
When we heard of two workers who had developed melanomas lately on their ear lobes we immediately thought of prolonged exposure to the sun typical for planting, and hats—specifically the lack of them, or those caps often worn and their failure to protect the auricle. That led, of course, to the French Foreign Legion. Not because of their planting proclivities, but their not always losing their heads in the heat. We attributed that less to their Gallic disposition than to their kepis. That led to the work last year by designer and tree planter Nicolene McKenzie to produce the special commemorative and possibly skin cancer-preventing tree planting kepi. Reports from the field say they work. Plus having the shade-providing attached neck shawl imprinted with our 60s retro Trees for Tomorrow logo celebrating the 8th Billionth Seedling makes them collectible. For more information on the caps, where you can get them, and how you owners can order your own company’s custom-designed kepis please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org