Western Forestry Contractors’ Association
Rumour Mill RoundUpDate
26 April 2019
Volume 19 Issue 6

Warning:No facts have been redacted in the publishing of this RoundUpDate.

A Short Sermon on the Mechanics and Benefits of
Better Training Human Recruits for Forestry;
with Some References to the Evolution of the Species and Automatons.

Tree Chalk

So they say. But machines won’t be replacing tree planting humans soon
even with an army of seed-planting drones.
Meanwhile, did someone throw a rock at these things’ nest?

One unit of mechanical horsepower is equal to lifting 550 lbs (250 kg) one foot (30 cm) in one second. A horse is capable of around 15 horsepower at peak capacity. An average human might be capable of producing 1.2 horsepower as a peak: extraordinary humans—like some forestry workers—might be two to three times that. But the real consideration, when it comes to the work day, is sustainable horsepower. Most humans are capable .01 horsepower of sustained effort: athletes twice that. This would mean the whole available human horsepower for B.C.’s tree planting sector is around 300 to 400 horsepower. By comparison, a dirt bike averages 30 horsepower (and we know how useful they are—picture ten of them doing donuts all day in a landing as equal to a day’s provincial planting effort.) So, the question is how do we plant an average 250 million seedlings each year while seeming so under powered? Part of the answer is our Cro-Magnon heritage which includes a primitive capacity for physical endurance. Another is our ability to fashion tools, like other clever primates, giving us some mechanical advantage. What a happy evolutionary coincidence then that humans are so well suited to planting trees. Nevertheless, running the business end of a first-class lever (shovel) all day requires more than brute strength and instinct. And this is the point of this missive: skill requires experience and training. We may be capable of many things, but like all complicated species we do need to learn, mostly through example and instruction. As Jonathan “Scooter” Clark provided ample evidence at this year’s annual WFCA conference. Tree planters, like other clever primates, do better when they are properly taught. In Scooter’s case his efforts to train rookies have shown workers lasting longer while doubling and tripling their seasonal productivity compared to days when less effort was invested in new recruits. (For the full story click here) The point then is, as the forestry sector finds itself competing for talent with the rest of the economy, making the best of our available candidates is critical. The old Darwinian days of letting recruits learn on their own, with the resulting thinning of the ranks, is a human resource profligacy we can no longer afford.

Brushing and Planting Workforces Have Been Shrinking Since Last Decade

Tree Chalk

A recent study found a clear trend showing a declining population of tree planters and some other silviculture employees since early in the previous decade. (Note that WorkSafeBC estimates seasonal workers in person-years. Multiply by three to get a crude figure of the actual number of seasonal employees.)

A recent analysis of WorkSafeBC injury claims data shows there are fewer workers planting and brushing today, then in the previous decade. The longitudinal study conducted by the BC SAFE Forestry Program found the declining trend, particularly in planting employees estimates, has continued even though the number of trees planted, mostly in the last half of this decade, has been rising. This somewhat counter-intuitive finding may be in part due to some statistical distortions around how WorkSafeBC tracks seasonal workers. But the study found a strong and consistent statistical correlation suggesting the trend is real. Just what it means and what may be causing it will become part of the pending Forestry Sector Labour Market Information and Human Resource Strategy project the WFCA which is now in the preliminary stages of negotiating with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. A governance committee for the project has been selected from among seedling nursery operators, silviculture contractors, wildfire and forest fuel firms, and consulting foresters. Research will begin later this spring. Meanwhile the number of silviculture employment applicants were steady this year after two years of decline for most major seasonal employers in the province. But the real number everyone will be paying attention to is how many actually show up in a few weeks’ time when the Interior planting season begins. To read the complete longitudinal study Injury Claims Across Three Classification Units click here.
Briefly noted:

  • Our federal government came to Vancouver last week to take some credit for their reforestation and restoration funding of forest carbon sequestration here in B.C. The $140 million announced by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was not new money, but dollars already at work growing seedlings and reforesting lands lost to wildfire and pests. WFCA director Rob Miller shared the podium with the minister framing the benefits of the new investments and job creation already benefiting the province from the funding. The announcement took place outside at Stanley Park. Publicists must have winced while Minister McKenna was introducing federal subsidies for purchasing electric vehicles, only to have her momentarily drowned out by the loud rattling of a diesel-powered school bus.
  • It has happened again. A tree planting crew of competent, well-drilled first aid attendants and helpers assisted an injured horse-back rider recently on Vancouver Island. This has happened before, including an instance where a tree planting supervisor administered first-aid to a victim of a side-by-side crash in the Fraser Valley likely saving her life. What was nice about the Vancouver Island incident was that some of the rescuers were members of the crew drilling demonstration at this year’s WFCA conference. Now, that is synchronicity.
  • A discouraging study out of the U.S. shows climate change is beginning to affect seedling survival on some burn sites. The research was conducted on low-elevation mixed conifer forests in the American northern Rocky Mountains. Higher summer temperatures seem to be the agent in regeneration failures. The report said, “Under a warming climate, we expect post-fire tree regeneration in these low elevation forests to become increasingly unsuccessful.” Are we beginning to see something like this here with our own plantations lately? To read the full report click here.
  • This year, so far, B.C. has been spared from another season of disastrous flooding. At a recent wildfire preparation conference in Nelson emergency responders who compared their experiences with communities struck by fire and others struck by flooding seem to agree that flooding was the hardest to cope with. Given the quality of suffering involved in both situations it is hard to imagine the difference. But responders said that fire’s devastation does, in its awful way, clean the slate. Whereas with flooding, homes remain afterwards often with all their effects even though they are, to all intents, destroyed. The imagery of seeing your home and things fouled and corrupted, but still there and inaccessible, seems harder to bear.