Tree Planters walking in to the cut block on a muddy trail in northern Alberta

May the Forest Be with You – Part 2

A Tree Planting Photography Adventure

by Sharon Krushel, Peace River, Alberta, 2019

Part 1 of this story is here May the Forest Be With You.

Chapter 6 – The Purpose

When I would mention my amazement at their strength and endurance, the tree planters would reply that it was difficult at first, but your body gets used to it. Their humble explanation did not diminish my admiration for the work they are doing.

The restoration of our forests is crucial for preserving wildlife habitat, for water conservation, and for sucking up carbon dioxide.

We won’t mitigate climate change by planting trees alone. Surprisingly, one of the most impactful things we can do is to improve refrigerant management. (The capacity of hydrofluorocarbons, used for cooling, to warm the atmosphere is 1,000 to 9,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.) We also, of course, need to reduce our use of fossil fuels, and that cannot be overstated. However, according to Conservation International, “Protecting and restoring the world’s forests can provide at least 30% of action needed to avoid the worst climate scenarios.”

a row of freshly-planted pine saplings on a cut blockAs I was photographing this massive cut block receiving sapling after sapling from the hands of these defenders of the forest, it occurred to me that the opportunity to combat climate change with tree planting is an offer of grace. We have decimated so many forests on our beautiful planet. Trees have given us shelter from the rain and sun, wood for everything from building homes to roasting smokies over a campfire, paper for communication, documentation, organization and writing home to Mom, beauty, nature therapy, and recreation…

And now, when we realize we’ve sunk ourselves into a looming environmental disaster by releasing great quantities of greenhouse gases into the air and cutting down too many trees, it’s like they’re extending a hand in forgiveness.

“If you give us a chance

we can help pull you out of this mess.”

One could say that these tree planters are just doing their job and getting paid so a logging company can fulfil its lawful obligation of reforestation. Similarly, one can say that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major is just horsehair scraping against catgut. A reductionist approach to anyone’s work misses the music.

Knowing you’re giving life to the earth can help you find your rhythm and stay in tune with whatever mental, spiritual or rock-and-roll zone keeps you going.

Woman tree planter with fireweed blooming in the foreground

Within a decade after this day of planting, a new, highly-productive forest will be growing. The trees planted on this cut block will likely be harvested 70-80 years from now for lumber. Hopefully, by that time, we’ll have our greenhouse gas emissions minimized. In the meantime, I’d love to be a squirrel on a log, watching all of the wildflowers, wild berries and wildlife coming and going and the Night Hawk fledglings learning to fly and eat mosquitos.

Fortunately, most of the carbon sucked up by this forest, even after harvest, will stay in the lumber for many years in long-lasting structures such as houses, providing habitat for humans.

Canada’s managed forests are a net carbon sink

This CBC report affirms the vital role of tree planters in the forest industry.

Feb. 12, 2019
You might have heard that Canada’s forests are an immense carbon sink, sucking up all sorts of CO2 — more than we produce — so we don’t have to worry about our greenhouse gas emissions…When you add up both the absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001. Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to our country’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years on record.

In areas directly impacted by human forestry activity, forests act as a net carbon sink, year after year. The “sink” effect is largely the result of new trees being planted and growing, after mature ones are cut down.

The harvested lumber, meanwhile, releases its carbon to the atmosphere more slowly…On average, areas subject to forestry activity have been a net sink of roughly 26 megatonnes annually since 2001.

That’s 26 million tonnes of CO2

sequestered annually by our managed, tree-planted forests!

For reference, Canada emits roughly 700 megatonnes of CO2 each year, so let’s get out our bicycles and see if we can bring our emissions down and our fitness levels up!

As more research is carried out, hopefully, we can adapt forestry practices to a changing climate and increase the boreal forest’s ability to sequester carbon and become more fire and pest resistant.

Climate Change Action Ideas – inspired by tree planters

Let’s all calculate our carbon footprint on an annual basis and plant the trees necessary to suck up whatever GHG emissions we’re responsible for! Or we can protect an acre of forest in the Amazon for $35 or fund a CO2-reducing project somewhere in the world by purchasing carbon credits. The name of the game is to have a smaller footprint every year. Go!

Click here for more details and ideas on what we can do as consumers and communities to enlist in the battle to keep our planet inhabitable for humans. I’d love to get your input!

Canada Needs More Tree Planters!

After fires and even with the pine beetle infestation, lumber companies often go in and salvage whatever wood they can and hire companies like Outland to reforest. With the massive fires we’ve had lately, the need for tree planters in 2020 will increase exponentially.

CBC reported October 14, 2019:
B.C. needs to plant 40 million more trees next year to reforest land devastated by two record-breaking wildfire seasons and to do that industry needs to find at least 1,000 more workers.

Maya estimated Alberta will need at least twice as many tree planters in the coming year. So if you’re like Maya and you’re inspired by crazy stories, talk to a tree planter and give Outland a call.

Chapter 7 – Their Stories

Since they were being paid per tree, I didn’t want to distract them from their work, but they did take breaks from time to time and guzzled water from 4-litre jugs, and I got a chance to hear some of their stories.

You can read more of their personal stories here. This is the best rabbit trail. You’ll want to scamper down this one for sure.

Those who are university students have definitely found a diversion from academics and a good-paying job to help pay off student loans.

Many are from Quebec; it’s a thing there – go to Alberta to plant trees. Some were invited by friends who had planted the previous year. And many are world travellers. They have come from as far away as South Africa.

Nikolay Todorov is a photographer from Montreal (originally from Ukraine), who got some amazing shots of life in the camp, on the cut block, and in the downwash of the helicopters, when he wasn’t planting trees. He got the picture of Imad that is on the front of the “May the Forest Be With You” card.

You can see Niko’s photos in Chapter 7 – Community. You can read Niko’s story here.

Tree planter from Ukraine working in northern Alberta

Nikolay Todorov, photographer from Montreal, Quebec – photo by Sharon Krushel. See Niko’s photos in Chapter 7

Many of the tree planters admitted to having some good days and some definitely not good days. Camaraderie and compassion were clearly evident in the group. Some areas are super difficult to plant. They work hard. And, judging by Niko’s photos, they play hard!

They celebrate when a fellow tree planter achieves a new Personal Best for the number of trees planted in one day. Imad planted 6,000 trees the day I was there (his PB) and 150,000 trees over the season. He posted on Facebook “Mom, I planted a mini forest”! That summer, two guys, Buck and Fellner, each planted their millionth tree with the company. There were major parties surrounding these milestones.

Maya, the Manager, said she has been working for Outland Reforestation for four years because they’re such great people to work for. Previously, she worked in the tree planting industry for nine years in Ontario, B.C., and Alberta. She has planted trees, worked as a crew boss and as a deliverer. She’s a trailblazer for women, for sure. You can read more of Maya’s story here. She was a great hostess to me, always checking in to make sure I was doing okay.

Maya the Manager

Chapter 8 – Mission Accomplished

These two crews of tree planters worked well past their usual nine hours that day to finish planting the cut block. Some who finished their piece early were reassigned to help in other areas. As they returned, they looked like worn-out soldiers coming back from war. It’s a wonder they could still muster a smile from somewhere deep inside when they saw the camera in front of my face.

I was impressed that about 40% of the tree planters were women! At the end of an exhausting day, Leanne and Tessa were tasked with planting the road leading out of the cut block. Tessa was actually thrilled to get the opportunity, because she wanted to beat her personal best that day, and she did! Then they joined the others for the two-kilometre hike out and the hour-long Rollagon ride back to camp.

I needed to get back to camp quickly so I could take down my tent and be off the forestry road and onto the highway before dark, so rather than riding back on the sturdy but slow Rollagon, Maya asked Sam to take me to the pickup spot and then Loukes was to take me by quad to the camp.

Tree planters finished the cut block

Photo by Loukes

Loukes Quad Driver

I thought my cousin Gail had given me the wildest ATV ride ever through the rolling pastures of her cattle ranch (this is the cousin who rode bulls in the rodeo); however, after I hopped on the tree planters’ ATV, Loukes took off “like a bat out of hell” as my mother used to say. He called back, “You okay?” which I interpreted to mean, “If you’re scared I can slow down.” I sensed that Loukes, through extensive experience, had developed superb mud management skills, so I laughed and said, “I’m good!” He grinned, I hung on for dear life, and on we went.

I soon realized I should have put the chin strap for my broad-brimmed Tilley hat under my chin instead of tucking it up into the hat. Maybe if I keep my head tilted down… But I wanted to see where we were going, so I lifted my head for a quick peek and Tilley developed sufficient lift to fly off my head but not enough to maintain altitude and it crash landed upside down in the muck behind us. No worries; if a Tilley Hat can survive going through the digestive system of an elephant (as legend has it), surely one can survive a Chinchaga mud bath. We backed up, plucked it out of the mud, I secured the strap under my chin, and we continued the rip-roaring ride to camp.

As soon as two of the canine camp mascots, Lucy and Dexter, heard the quad in the distance, they came running to escort us, playing, racing and romping all the way.

I used to get called “Freckle Face” as a child, and it all came back to me when I saw the mud splatters adorning my forehead and the bridge across my nose. My blue backpack and purple leather camera bag were both the same colour as the top of my hat.

I got the tent down and everything organized and packed into the truck in time for the return of the Rollagon, so I ran with my camera to get some shots of these bedraggled, mud-splattered superhumans jumping down with sore feet, worn-out hands, aching backs and empty bellies.


Camp Cook – the Amazing Mel

Mel had made multiple kinds of pizza for supper, and it was snarfed back with grateful abandon and adoration. In spite of the sign on her door, Mel said I could leave my boots on and I got to photograph her in her domain. How she cooks such fabulous food for 40 people in that space I’ll never know. I heard from many of the tree planters that coming back to Mel’s cooking after a day on the cut block is the closest thing they have to coming home.

I told her of the heavenly snack her peanut butter brownies had provided me on the cut block and thanked her from the bottom of my happy belly for all of the food I had enjoyed that day. I just wish I had photographed her beautiful food – her art form!

Mel in her domain


Chapter 9 – Community – Niko’s photos

Though together as a whole group for only a season, they seemed to me a unique community with deeply-rooted friendships, and I felt privileged to be with them if only for a day. The four dogs, Lucy, Ben, Pepper and Dexter, were part of the community too, helping keep the bears at bay and spirits up.

At the end of the season, everyone celebrates Christmas with a turkey dinner and a Christmas tree decorated with coloured marking tapes, and Santa Claus, and presents, and everything. It’s tradition.

Here are some of Nikolay Todorov’s photos, capturing this unique tree planters’ lifestyle from within.

Fellner, Maya, Buck and Will at Fellner’s “1,000,000 Trees!” party

Photo by Niko Todorov

Chapter 10 – Oh Deer! My Name is Mud

Fortunately, I made it off the forestry road before dark. Unfortunately, it was midnight and dark when I neared the Peace River / Grimshaw junction going south on the MacKenzie Highway. Fortunately, I missed the deer that jumped out of the ditch in front of my husband’s beautiful blue shiny-underneath-all-that-mud truck. Unfortunately, I didn’t miss the second deer. Fortunately, Wawanesa Insurance and Touch of Class pulled me out of my predicament; the truck is as good as new, and my husband says I can still sleep indoors. 😉 Unfortunately, I fear the poor deer did not fare as well.

It took some fancy power washer skills to get the Chinchaga mud off my Tilley hat and pretty much everything I took with me on that trip. I took a more gentle approach when cleaning my camera, but still have to get the spots off the sensor. It was probably not wise to change lenses in the rain to get a macro shot of that delicate white flower under the shelter of the evergreen boughs.

I took 1,950 photos and have spent many hours sorting, rating, editing, uploading and sharing because I love a great story, and this group of tree planters has a great story!

Chapter 11 – The Gift of Trees and Friendship

When they were finished their work, Imad, Eddy and Vanessa came to our house and brought me a “May the Forest Be With You” T-shirt with the Outland company logo on the back. They also brought a bundle of pine saplings which Vanessa helped me plant on the hill behind our house in the pouring rain, using a measly garden trowel.
While we were away at our son’s wedding, they stayed at our place, with our blessing, and had a potluck supper in our back yard with Mel, Loukes, Dalton and Tessa. We came home to find they had left some cinnamon apple cake for us to enjoy and an avocado seed set in water to sprout.

I hope they can come back someday to see the gifted trees and seeds of friendship growing.

Eddy, Imad and Vanessa brought me a tree planter’s T-shirt 🙂

May the forest be with us all!