Treeplanting Expert: Running Your Own Crew

Are you ready to run your own crew? Many planters will start to get that urge after several years of planting. Find out what it takes to motivate, encourage, and inspire your team to plant their hearts out.

Running a crew can be exciting, challenging, and satisfying. However, it also means an incredible amount of hard work at some companies. The exact role of a foreman (also known as “crew boss”) can vary significantly. At some places, you’ll have a ton of help if you are a foreman. At others, you are very independent and working on your own. Let’s look at the variation in job responsibilities from company to company, and then we’ll look at some of the leadership roles that you need to assume when you are supervising a group of planters.

First role: quality control and logistics

At some companies, the foremen have the assistance of internal company checkers or tree runners to help them with their daily tasks. In other businesses, the foreman has to fill one or both of these roles. Having the assistance of a tree runner is probably a bit more common than having the help of a quality checker. Being responsible for getting trees to the planters can be a very simple job in some areas. It can also be an unforgiving and challenging task in others if the access is poor. Being a tree runner is also a relatively risky job at times, as there are safety concerns associated with running an ATV or other vehicles all day through challenging access areas.

Second role: interviewing and hiring

At some companies, foremen are responsible for doing their hiring. When doing so, their aim is to build a dedicated crew that will work well as a group. At other companies, there will be a central human resource position or hiring manager who takes care of interviewing and selecting applicants. If there is a such a person, it is more likely that none of the none of the crews will be permanently structured as a unique group of planters. At those companies, a number of foremen share responsibilities for looking after planters, with each foreman getting a different group of planters every few days.


At some companies, the foremen are compensated with a daily salary. At others, foremen earn a commission based on a percentage of what their crew earns. If the foreman is supervising a small crew, he or she is often allowed (or even expected) to plant trees along with the rest of the crew. The size of the crew, in this case, is usually up to five planters. This is the number of passengers able to fit with the foreman in a crew cab truck. Here, part of their earnings will be based upon their planting totals and augmented by a salary or commission. The compensation rates and schemes for foremen vary significantly from company to company.

The positives and negatives of running your own crew

What are some of the advantages of running a crew? Financially, your first year or two as a foreman are a lot like your first year or two as a planter. This is the especially the case if you are at a company with performance-based compensation. Your earnings may be moderate when you are starting to build a crew, even less than an experienced planter may earn. After a few years, if you are good at your job and establish a large team of experienced planters, you can make more than the top highballer planters in camp. 

The biggest drawbacks of running a crew are the long hours that you’ll probably have to put in, and the liability risk if someone gets injured or killed while you are supervising them. If there’s a bad accident and you are found to have been negligent in enforcing safety regulations or found to have contributed indirectly to an accident, you can have lots of liability.

On a positive note, running a crew can be fun and rewarding. It is a much more interesting job than just having your head down planting all day. There are so many things that you need to think about and look after. You’ll probably end up doing extra work after dinner on work nights, and on your days off. However, at least the work is not usually as hard on your body as full-time planting. Running a crew is great for an experienced planter who has five or six seasons of experience but who is concerned the work is starting to destroy their bodies. It can be a good way to extend your time in the industry.

What do I need to be a good crew boss?

To be a good crew boss, you need to have a very positive mental attitude. You have to be able to motivate and others.  Tree planting is tough work, and it is extremely difficult to keep a smile during a miserable cold and wet rain day. When covered with mud and having trouble getting trees to your planters’ caches, it is important to have a positive attitude.  You can imagine how hard it is to motivate a group of planters who are just as cold and wet as you are. Getting them to do their jobs when all they want to do is get into the truck and go home is no easy task.You have to keep upbeat and positive, and somehow infuse your crew members with that same optimistic outlook.   

Third role: the safety inspector

You need to be a positive role model in everything you do, not just in attitude. When you are driving a truck, you have to drive safely. You have to be safe, even when planters are asking you to drive faster so they can get home for dinner. When it comes to other safety-related aspects of the job, the same thing applies. Whether driving an ATV, moving equipment or operating chainsaws, you always have to wear all the safety gear. A poor attitude about safety from a foreman will infect the rest of the crew, which might eventually lead to a serious accident or injury.

Fourth role: the motivator

Sometimes your planters will be in a good mood but will not be motivated to work hard. You have to convince them that higher production is in their best interests, and you have to have the skills and experience to watch them work. When appropriate, offer them time-saving tips and techniques. Ultimately, this means that you have to be both a quality and production oriented planter. If you do not have a great work ethic and excellent planting skills before you become a foreman, it is hard to translate this into a positive and productive work with your crew members.

Even if you are an experienced planter but haven’t thought seriously about running a crew in past seasons, watch your foreman carefully this season. Think about the things that they do to keep things running in an efficient and organized manner.  Pay attention to how they motivate planters, and what doesn’t work well to drive people.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll be able to put those skills to use yourself someday.

HighBaller TreePlanter
HighBaller TreePlanter


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August 27, 2015


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