Growing strong in the forest

As a forest technician in charge of administering planting contracts in the past, I have found myself unhanding a whip from a foreman, stepping around piles of feces in camps with no outhouses, being offered cash bribes, observing overcrowded vehicles, deplorable camp standards, and much more. I would always write these incidents up and present them to my superiors in the B.C. Forest Service.

I have been told to ignore the conditions, as the saving in the price of the contract pays for my wage. I’ve been told to look the other way or let the contract continue, as it is too expensive to get someone else in to do it.

In other words, the message over many years was that abuse was justified by being able to save money.

The situation with Khaira Enterprises was recognized in the planting community and communicated to the government, which awards many tree-planting contracts.

In respect to the government, they sent nearly every board or council out to inspect the company. I believe all of them found the contractor not up to standards, but instead of shutting them down, they fined them, essentially giving them the green light to continue the status quo.

Had the Khaira workers near Golden not lit an illegal fire which led to the discoveries of squalor and abuse, would this method of operating just have continued?

Twenty-five years ago, I sat in a tent outside a remote logging camp in the pouring rain, waiting for the loggers to finish eating as the planters were not allowed to eat until the loggers finished. 

I laugh when I look back now, such prejudice, the loggers in their Atco trailers, the planters fending off grizzlies for a night’s sleep.

But somehow it made me stronger, probably due to the fact that a few years later we all ate together and shared the trailers, as we learned that working together and creating a safer workplace provided a better quality of life for all of us.

I don’t know if the Khaira workers will be able to look back and laugh.

The silviculture industry is the best it has ever been when it comes to worker safety; the direction is honourable. We just ask that the government work with the same level of integrity to help us achieve an even higher ground.

I don’t want to point fingers, as we all got to this place together. I simply hope that collectively, we can instill confidence in the public that we will continue to grow strong like the forests we work in.

John Gilchrist,

Evergreen Forest Services

Winlaw, B.C.