Campsites along Adams Lake attract serious back road campers every summer, in part because the sites are remote from noise and overcrowding. It was with some surprise when visitors discovered that instead of vacationers, Tsikwustum Creek Recreation site was occupied by a tree planting crew.
The group of 45 had been there for about a month and had a few weeks left of their working/ camping engagement. Their employer is Blue Collar Silviculture Ltd. based in Quesnel, but the young planters come from as far away as Quebec and Northern Ontario as well as from all over B.C. The rustic site was taken over by tents and trailers to house them, a dining hall (tent) and various structures to accommodate all the equipment a work camp requires.
The camp is located several hours from either the Trans Canada Highway or the Agate Bay Road to Barriere and Kamloops; so supplies had to be transported for some distance and mostly over well maintained gravel roads. This included the trees to be planted, and for those special trucks are used, that also have to wind their way over the back roads. The camp is outfitted with many modern comforts, no campfire cooking and bath only in the lake. A large generator supplies power for hot water for showers and cooking for the crew. The workers pay $25 per day for ‘room and board’, and once they have paid up the cost for the ‘tools and equipment’ the require, they still state, “The work is hard, but the money is good”.
Life and work as a Tree Planter takes a certain predisposition to do hard, hands on labor, and in the case of living in a backwoods camp, to accept some isolation and feel to comfortable with the natural world. In conversation with the crew that had just come in from the field, the visitors were told that at times they have met bears and that means they do as instructed – that is nothing, but retreat from the area and wait until the bruins have moved on, and then they can go back to work
They are paid by the number of trees planted, and that does not only depend on how fast they can do that but also how accurate their work is. A section of their planting is tested by an inspector to make sure the tiny trees will survive and grow. Each tree not planted according to specification is subtracted from their total. Some of the fellows demonstrated how the bags of trees are slung around their waist, and how the planting tools are used. Those bags are heavy, the terrain they work in is rough and often steep, and the women on the crew have equal rights, they get no special treatment, but work along side the men.
The young people might miss some of the usual diversions but they knew how to have fun. One Saturday for instance, they staged an Art and Talent show. Erich Mmagdzik from Prince George related, “It was such great fun; we dressed up and some of those outfits were daring but who cares; several of us had instruments to play and we danced, sang and partied the night away.”
Now most of the young tree planters have gone back to university, college or another job. Perhaps next year they will return to ‘life in the bush, as tree planters’.