When you put money in a bank account, the bank pays you interest. As long as you leave the money in the bank, it keeps growing. If you had $50 and the bank paid you 8% interest, in nine years you would have twice as much money. That is what we call an investment. You receive more than you put in. The COs only got paid fifty cents a day, so they weren't able to save up any money, but they made a different kind of investment: they planted trees.
The conscientious objector program with the BC Forestry Service included planting trees in burned out forests. Between May 1942 and March 1944, COs planted seventeen million trees. Now, more than sixty years later, these trees are reaching maturity. The little seedlings have become great forests. In 1995, Ed Janzen estimated the value of these trees.
“Seventeen million trees were planted in those two years. I called up a couple of sawmills and lumberyards and asked, “How many board feet of lumber can you get out of a 50-year-old fir tree?” The most conservative figure calculated on the basis of trees 40 feet [12 m] tall, 2 feet [60 cm] thick estimated the yield at 3000 board feet per tree. Multiplied by 17 million trees, makes over 5 billion board feet of lumber on the Island today. A builder figuring 35 cents a board foot, valued the trees that COs planted in those two years, 50 years ago at 1.75 billion dollars. If you divide it by the 50 years, it still amounts to $35,700,000 of value a year that has grown in forest planted by COs.”
The COs spent 22,820 man-days (or 182,560 hours) planting trees. Take the estimated value, $1.75 billion, and divide by the number of hours. Every hour the COs spent planting trees resulted in $9500 worth of lumber. And the COs worked for fifty cents a day.
Even if the trees are never cut down and sold as lumber, they are still worth a lot. A mature tree recycles twelve kilograms of pollution every year. How many kilograms could seventeen million trees recycle in one year? Trees also produce oxygen, regulate the air temperature, and provide places for wildlife to live.
Economic and ecological estimates are one part of the CO story. For the COs who planted the seedlings, the grown trees are a living example of their wartime contribution. Even for those who don't know that the COs reforested thousands of acres in BC, the forests are beautiful sight to behold. In 1988, Dave Parker, Minister of Forests for British Columbia, gave a speech on this bold program of reforestation.