A tree planting camp obviously has a lot of tree planters. But who runs the show? What types of support staff are needed?
A typical tree planting camp can have as few as fifteen to twenty planters or less and as many as a hundred or more. The numbers typically range from about thirty to fifty planters, but there isn’t anything “typical” in the tree planting industry.
When people refer to a “camp” of tree planters, it is because they are talking about a large crew or collection of them working out of a bush camp. Bush camps, however, are not the only setup for planting. In some locations, crews will work out of town. They will stay in cheap motels with kitchenettes. The advantage of having a motel as a home base is that it is always warm and dry. It is also easy to have a hot shower every night without a long lineup. It is a lot warmer than sleeping in a tent. Though this does not matter much in June/July, it makes a big difference earlier in the spring. Motels usually feature access to laundry facilities every night, good mobile coverage, and fast internet. If you are a picky eater, you can tailor your menu because you are cooking for yourself.
However, living in motels has a couple drawbacks. First, it can be more expensive than living in a planting camp. You usually have to pay for part of the cost of your room. This can be costly even if your company helps to subsidize that cost. You also have to pay directly for your food up front. Between these two items, you are going to be spending quite a bit more per day than if you were living in a camp and paying daily camp costs. If you are not a good cook, your menu may be somewhat drab or unhealthy. Also, unless you are a person who truly prefers to be left alone, you might notice that working out of a motel is a lot less social than a camp environment.
There are also some areas where people work out of their homes. They will meet the crew every day at a central meeting point in town, then ride to the blocks together in a crew vehicle. This is common on Vancouver Island, where the jobs are done by professional planters (often known as “lifers”) who have had many years of experience. It is also common in the Maritimes, where there aren’t too many full bush camps.
As you travel from province to province, you’ll see that bush camps are the most common setup for planting crews. In a bush camp, you are bound to run into some support staff: supervisors, foremen, cooks, checkers, tree runners, or maintenance people. You are also likely to run into some of the same people (except cooks) with crews working out of motels or out of their homes. On motel jobs, it is common to see just supervisors and foremen, as they multi-task to fill a number of roles.
In a camp situation, the supervisor is typically the senior member of the camp. They are responsible for managing operations and safety. The supervisor does not frequently oversee individual planters directly, although he or she may often help with that task.
The supervisor might be responsible for many activities. This includes overseeing the other support staff, human resource management, ordering seedlings, scheduling deliveries and overseeing the food budget. It also includes ordering and inventory maintenance of key consumables (drinking water, gasoline, diesel, propane), chairing safety meetings, liaison with clients, overseeing quality enforcement, monitoring production and submitting payroll. Supervisors are responsible for overseeing vehicle maintenance and repairs, animal control, equipment maintenance and repair, overseeing training, WorkSafe/OHS reporting, overseeing first aid, and invoicing.
Supervisors are in charge of GIS reports, advance assessment of access to blocks, invoicing clients, waste management, organizing camp moves, and several dozen other tasks. For this reason, most supervisors have at least half a dozen years of planting experience and half a dozen years of experience in running crews.
The foremen (also called crew bosses in some areas), are responsible for the direct oversight of the planters. In some companies, planters move around from foreman to foreman on a daily basis. They do this according to daily crew lists that are organized by upper management. In other companies, planters will remain with a single foreman for the entire season. In doing so, the crew becomes almost like a family group. In a big camp, it is not uncommon to have many distinct crews. The foremen will drive their crews out to the blocks each morning, assign pieces, set up caches and deliver trees and monitor quality. They will train planters when necessary, manage garbage removal and block cleanup, and ensure that the crew makes it home safely for dinner.
Not all camps have quality checkers, and it is important to distinguish between internal company checkers and foresters who also check trees. The external ones can cause grief when they come in to check the quality of the crew. If they decide that the quality standards are not satisfied, they can force a crew to go back in and fix trees. They can also reduce payment to the company. On the other hand, internal company checkers are employed by the planting companies. They perform the same role, to assess quality on an ongoing basis. However, they are a “warning” system. The internal checkers can let the foremen and supervisor know when there are quality problems on a daily basis, so problems get fixed before the foresters discover them. These checkers are also good at preventative action, by helping with training of new employees, and coaching planters on techniques that might mitigate quality problems that are happening.
Tree runners deliver trees to the planters’ caches on the blocks. Their job varies quite a bit and can include the following activities: loading crew trucks with boxes, going to nursery and cold storage facilities to pick up boxes, and setting up helicopter slings. They also deliver trees on the block by ATV, carry boxes of trees into inaccessible areas by hand, remove garbage, and a dozen other odd jobs. Some planters envy a tree runner when they see that the tree runners sometimes get to ride ATV’s all day. However, anyone who’s done this job before knows that it is probably the toughest, most physical job in the industry. In addition, the planters are always counting on you. If planters do not have trees at their caches, they cannot make any money!
Cooks may not be in charge of the camp, but they are the most important people in a camp. Many planters fall in love with their cooks. Nothing makes you forget a bad day quite like coming home to a hot and tasty dinner. The cooks also put in tremendously long days. They often get up at 4am to start preparing for breakfast and work straight through until the dinner dishes are finished at 9pm. The hours that they put in are staggering.
Finally, some large camps employ someone either part-time or full-time to help with maintenance. This can be maintaining and repairing equipments in camp (generators, water pumps, hot water heaters, propane stoves). It can also be doing regular maintenance and simple repairs on the vehicles and ATV’s in camp. If you are working on a very remote contract that uses unique vehicles (such as Rolligons or Nodwells), you may also have full-time drivers living and working in your camp.
If you’ve been planting for several seasons and you think you are ready for a challenging change and some additional responsibility, there are lots of options within a typical management structure. Remember that all of these support positions can be just as challenging as planting, in their own ways.