Tree Planting

Most people today understand the need to respect our environment. In the past, however, people either didn't know or didn't care about the harmful effects of pollution and resource exploitation. Today, however, most people agree that it is better to recycle a can than to throw it in the garbage and that is better to replant trees instead of cutting them down and leaving an empty field.

Trees are a renewable resource. There is a limited amount of coal and gas in the world, but you can always plant more trees. But forests need to be carefully managed for them to survive. In Canada, 700 million trees are planted every year. Sixty years ago, however, not only would planting that many trees would have seemed impossible, but people might not have even thought that it was necessary.

During the Second World War, Canada's conscientious objectors were part of a tree-planting program. One of their biggest accomplishments was planting 17 million trees on Vancouver Island and reviving the burnt-out Sayward Forest near Campbell River.

Read some articles about tree planting from The Beacon, the CO newspaper, and watch some videos. The first video shows what the tree nursery looked like, and the second one shows a close-up of the seedlings.

Gordon Dyck worked as a tree planter. He describes the history of the forest and some of the obstacles the COs faced.

“As the logging method had been extremely wasteful, taking out only the best and convenient trees, the area was left with a great number of trees killed by the fire, that needed to be cut down to be able to control future fires. A dead and partly rotten standing tree, called a “snag,” was considered a great fire hazard, as the fire would run up and the wind could then blow burning embers a considerable distance. So during the winter we cut them down and left them where they fell. Then in the cooler seasons of spring and fall, we planted seedling trees in these areas, right among the felled snag. Occasionally where loggers had taken nothing, these dead trees now lay crisscross in a six to eight foot layer. We simply walked on top of this mess and jumped down here and there to plant a tree. We wore special loggers' boots called caulk boots, with soles covered with short spikes. Every store in town had a sign prohibiting wearing them inside. The damage done to our bunk house floors was considerable."

“Each tree planting crew consisted of about 15 men spaced about 6 feet [1.8 m] apart. The area had been surveyed and so the end men had to keep a sharp lookout for the stakes and the rest of us in the line just kept about 2 paces from our neighbour. The seedlings were strategically placed in beds ahead of time, and we never seemed to run out. We were always able to re-supply our burlap shoulder bags in time. The trees we planted were all Douglas Fir and came in bundles of 100, about 12 inches [30 cm] long. Each of us had a mattock (a heavy tool similar to a hoe) with a 4 foot [1.2 m] handle.

David Jantzi explains the method trees were planted.

"We would chop into the ground, pull a little, slip a seedling in behind the blade and then pack it down by stepping beside the seedling as we took two more steps to plant the next one."

“We learned to do this quite rapidly, hardly even stopping – just chop and plant, chop and plant. Soon our straw boss, Pete Unger, would call out “Take five!” meaning a five minute rest. The reason for these many rest stops was that the forest service would not permit a man to plant more than 1000 trees a day, since they felt that at that speed, the seedlings were just being thrown away. But the work was supposed to last all day, hence the many “Take fives.” Actually we never threw trees away and could have easily planted more, but “rules are rules.” So why complain. Having visited these areas later in life, I was surprised to see the country covered with forest. It seems they all grew.

The COs who return to Vancouver Island to look at where they worked can hardly believe how tall the trees are. After sixty years, these trees are reaching maturity. In 1995, Ed Janzen estimated the value of these trees. He called up some lumberyards to find out how much each of those trees was worth. They gave him a surprising answer. The trees planted by the COs are now worth $1.75 billion.