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Treeplanting is the process of transplanting tree seedlings, generally for forestry, land reclamation, or landscaping purposes. It differs from the transplantation of larger trees in arboriculture, and the lower cost but slower and less reliable distribution of tree seeds.

It is a silviculture activity known as reforestation. It involves planting seedlings over an area of land where the forest has been harvested or damaged by fire or disease or insects. Treeplanting is carried out in many different parts of the world, and strategies may differ widely across nations, regions and individual reforestation companies. Treeplanting is grounded in forest science, and if performed properly can result in the successful regeneration of a deforested area. Reforestation is the commercial logging industry's answer to the large-scale destruction of old growth forests, but a planted forest rarely replicates the biodiversity and complexity of a natural forest.

Because trees remove carbon dioxide from the air as they grow, tree planting can be used as a geoengineering technique to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.



Guysborough, or Flysborough as it is unaffectionately known among some planters

In recent years there has been much talk of a distinctive treeplanting culture, the result of an isolated work environment that bears little similarity to the lives that planters live during the 'off season.' Scott Chisholm, creator of [1], has noted that, "tree planters thrive on adversity." The shared experience of long hours out in the elements, fighting through mud, slash and clouds of black flies is what binds planters together. The difficulty of treeplanting is often compared to that of active military service. On average, treeplanters are between the ages of 18 and 30. There are also 'lifers' who have made treeplanting into somewhat of a career. Treeplanters tend to view themselves as tough and aloof from the rest of society. They have a reputation for raucous drinking in small town bars. There is however a well established "dark side" to treeplanting life. Recent studies have found the work environment to be "extremely poor" as far as the "quality of life" is concerned [2]. Drug (primarily cannabis) and alcohol abuse is rampant, and the mental health of the workers is often compromised by a multitude of stresses. Within Canada, workers in the province of Quebec have organized and sought to redress some of these issues, as well as the (frequently industry-wide) expectation of unpaid labour [3].

Treeplanting by country


A cutblock fifteen years after replanting
A 21-year-old plantation of red pine in Southern Ontario.
A public treeplanting event in Markham, Ontario.

Most treeplanting in Canada is carried out by private reforestation companies in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. Reforestation companies compete with one another for contracts from logging companies, whose annual allowable cut for the following year is based upon how much money they invest into reforestation and other silvicultural practices. Treeplanting is typically piece work and tree prices can vary widely depending on the difficulty of the terrain and on the winning contract's bid price. As a result, there is a saying among planters: "There is no bad land, only bad contracts." The shrewd Canadian treeplanter will most likely walk off the job (literally) than work a severely underbid contract. Canadian treeplanters are renowned throughout the world for their ability to plant difficult terrain, and can often be found working in other commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, where their skill is in high demand.

Planting is carried out in accordance to the client's specifications, and planters are expected to learn the quality standards for each contract that they work on. Planted clearcuts are spot checked on a regular basis. Although quality concerns vary across contracts, spot checkers are typically looking for such things as: species appropriate site choice, species appropriate spacing, how tight the seedlings are in the ground, how straight the seedlings are, and whether or not the seedlings have been damaged. These concerns vary from region to region, and from forester to forester.

The average BC planter plants 1 600 trees per day. These numbers are higher in central and eastern Canada, where the terrain is generally faster, however the price per tree is slightly lower as a result. Planters typically work 8–10 hours per day with an additional 1 to 2 hours of (usually) unpaid traveling time. Work weeks on British Columbian planting contracts are usually 4–5 days long, with 1–2 days off. In Ontario, work weeks are generally 5–6 days long, with 1 day off.

The BC spring/summer planting season typically starts in late April and runs right through to late August, making it the perfect job for University students. Most planting companies will make it a priority to keep their planters working the entire season, since veteran planters will jump to another company to avoid costly down time. Small breaks between contracts are usually inevitable however, and planters can expect crammed motel rooms or camping near small towns in an effort to save money.

Bush camps can consist of anywhere from one to seven crews. Crews are normally no larger than 18 planters at the start of the season, but can dwindle down significantly, to even just a shotgun crew of three or four planters, depending on how many quit throughout the season.

Bush camp accommodations usually consist of a mess tent, cook shack, dry goods tent, first aid tent, freshly dug washrooms, and a shower tent or trailer. Planters are responsible for bringing either a tent or car to sleep in. A camp also contains camp cooks and support staff. It is well known that the camp cooks can make or break a planter's season and what he or she earns therein. Cooks can vary from having restaurant experience, to just having worked as a planter before and are responsible for providing breakfast and lunch ingredients in the morning and supper in the evening, all of which have a huge impact on morale. They can normally be found in the cook shack before sunrise, and a good cook's sleep hours are a casualty of his/her dedication to sustaining the camp.

Many northern B.C. rookies are put off during the first few weeks in a bush camp by the overnight temperature, as it can drop to below zero in early May. Some would describe it as sleeping, waking and changing in a refrigerator, but if endured, summer nights in July and August are refreshingly comfortable.

Treeplanting is seasonal labour and has become a popular form of employment for young Canadian adults, many of whom spend their summers planting trees in order to pay their university tuitions. In British Columbia, where the season is longer, treeplanting is considered to be more of a career or profession than short term summer employment. Many career planters in British Columbia work into their sixties, and often manage to continually improve, not only in planting skill but in attitude as well. Although treeplanting is both psychologically and physically challenging, hard workers can typically earn well above the average student income. However, the learning curve is quite steep, so many planters do not reap the attractive economic benefits until at least 4–5 weeks of disciplined self-determination. The second season is always lucrative. This, combined with the need for the potential treeplanter to buy all of the equipment needed for the job (several hundreds of dollars worth), makes becoming a treeplanter a multi year investment for most. Quite often, treeplanting contractors will deduct some of the cost associated with the operation of the contract directly from the treeplanter's daily earned wages. These imposed fees typically vary from $10 to $30 per day, and are referred to as "camp costs". In some cases, rookie treeplanters end up owing their employer money for the first few pay periods.[4] There has been much casual debate among planters on whether these extra costs are fair, as there are plenty of examples of room and board being gratis for workers in a spectrum of related industries. [5] Once inflation is factored in, real treeplanter earnings have declined for many years in Canada. This has adversely affected the sector's ability to attract and retain workers[6]. Higher wages and much better working conditions in many other industries, from construction, to oil and gas, and even information technology, has led to fewer Canadian young people wanting to plant trees.

Based on statistics for British Columbia, the average treeplanter: lifts a cumulative weight of over 1 000 kilograms, bends more than 200 times per hour, drives the shovel into the ground more than 200 times per hour and travels over 16 kilometers with a heavy load, every day of the entire season. Encounters with wildlife, including grouse, stinging insects, moose and even bears are frequent. Bears are perceived to be such a danger by many, that the only way to ward them off is by having a "bear dog" on site.[7] Actual injuries from bear encounters are however extremely rare. Another danger that treeplanters face is the risk of injury caused by the repetitive and jarring work. Logging roads are notoriously dangerous as well, and that's where the majority of treeplanter accidents occur[8]. The reforestation industry has an average annual injury rate of approximately 22 claims per 100 workers, per year. It is often difficult and sometimes dangerous.[2]

Great Britain

A treeplanter in northern Ontario.

Planting in Britain is commonly referred to as restocking, when it takes place on land that has recently been harvested. When occurring on previously unforested land it is known as new planting [3]. Under the British system, in order to acquire the necessary permissions to clear fell, the landowner must agree a management plan with the Forestry Commission (the regulatory body for all things forestry) which must include proposals for the re-establishment of tree cover on the land. Planting contractors will be engaged by the landowner / management company, a contract drawn up and work will typically take place from November to April when the transplants are dormant.

Planting is part of the rotational nature of much British plantation forestry. Productive tree crops are planted and subsequently clear felled. Some form of soil cultivation may take place and the ground is then restocked. Where the production of timber is a management priority, a prescribed stocking density must be achieved. For coniferous species this will be a minimum of 2500 stems per hectare at year 5 (from planting). Planting at this density has been shown to favour the development of straighter knot free logs.

Planters are normally paid under piece work terms and an experienced worker will plant around 1500 trees a day under most conditions.

New Zealand

Kaingaroa Forest in New Zealand is the largest planted forest in the southern hemisphere. It is one of the many plantation forests planted since European settlement. The Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) is commonly used for plantations since a fast growing cultivar suitable for a wide range of conditions has been developed.

Government agencies, environmental organisations and private trusts carry out treeplanting for conservation and climate change mitigation. While some work is carried out by private enterprise there are also planting days organised for volunteers. Landcare Research use planted forests for their EBEX21 system for greenhouse gas emissions mitigations.[4]

United States

Trees for the Future is a non-profit organisation that plants trees in developing countries to improve land management.[5]

Treeplanting and climate change

The development of markets for tradeable pollution permits in recent years have opened up a new source of funding for treeplanting projects: carbon offsets. The creation of carbon offsets from treeplanting projects hinges on the notion that trees help to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide as they grow. However, the science linking trees and climate change is largely unsettled, and trees remain a controversial source of offsets.

Climate impacts

Climate scientists believe that human-induced global deforestation is responsible for 18-25% of global climate change. The United Nations, World Bank and other leading nongovernmental organizations are encouraging reforestation, avoided deforestation and other projects that encourage tree planting to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Trees sequester carbon through photosynthesis, converting carbon dioxide and water into molecular dioxygen (O2) and plant organic matter, such as carbohydrates (e.g., cellulose). Hence, forests that grow in area or density and thus increase in organic biomass will reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. (Carbon is released as CO2 if a tree or its lumber burns or decays, but as long as the forest is able to grow back at the same rate as its biomass is lost due to oxidation of organic carbon, the net result is carbon neutral.) In their 2001 assessment, the IPCC estimated the potential of biological mitigation options (mainly tree planting) is on the order of 100 Gigatonnes of carbon (cumulative) by 2050, equivalent to about 10% to 20% of projected fossil fuel emissions during that period.[6]

However, the global cooling effect of forests from carbon sequestration is not the only factor to be considered. For example, the planting of new forests may initially release some of the area's existing carbon stores into the atmosphere. Specifically, the conversion of peat bogs into oil palm plantations has made Indonesia the world's third largest producer of greenhouse gases.[7]

Compared to less vegetated lands, forests affect climate in three main ways:

  • Cooling the Earth by functioning as carbon sinks.
  • Cooling the Earth by adding water vapor to the atmosphere and thereby increasing cloudiness.
  • Warming the Earth by absorbing a high percentage of sunlight due to the low reflectivity of a forest's dark surfaces. This warming effect, or reduced albedo, is large where evergreen forests, which have very low reflectivity, shade snow cover, which is highly reflective.

To date, most tree-planting offset strategies have taken only the first effect into account. A study published in December 2005 combined all these effects and found that tropical forestation has a large net cooling effect, because of increased cloudiness and because of high tropical growth and carbon sequestration rates.[8].

Trees grow three times faster in the tropics than in temperate zones; each tree in the rainy tropics removes about 22 kilograms (50 pounds) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.[9] However, this study found little to no net global cooling from tree planting in temperate climates, where warming due to sunlight absorption by trees counteracts the global cooling effect of carbon sequestration. Furthermore, this study confirmed earlier findings that reforestation of colder regions — where long periods of snow cover, evergreen trees, and slow sequestration rates prevail — probably results in global warming. According to Ken Caldeira, a study co-author from the Carnegie Institution for Science, "To plant forests outside of the tropics to mitigate climate change is a waste of time." [10].

His premise that grassland reflects more sun, keeping temperatures lower, is, however, applicable only in arid regions. A well-watered lawn, for example, is as green as a tree, but absorbs far less CO2. Deciduous trees also have the advantage of providing shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter; so these trees, when planted close to houses, can be utilized to help increase energy efficiency of these houses.

This study remains controversial and criticized for assuming dark colored trees might replace the frozen, white tundra in the upper northern hemisphere. Regular tree planting projects typically take place on lands that are only slightly different in color. The warming impact was also measured over hundreds of years, rather than a 30-70 year time horizon most climate experts believe we have to fix climate change.

Furthermore, the described warming effect (of temperate and boreal latitude forest) is only apparent once the trees have grown to create a dense 'close canopy', and it is at precisely this point that trees grown for offset purposes should be harvested and their absorbed carbon fixed for the long-term as timber.


While the benefits of treeplanting are subject to debate, the costs are low[11] compared to many other mitigation options. The IPCC has concluded that "The mitigation costs through forestry can be quite modest (US$0.1–US$20 / metric ton carbon dioxide) in some tropical developing countries.... The costs of biological mitigation, therefore, are low compared to those of many other alternative measures".[6] The cost effectiveness of tropical reforestation is due not only to growth rate, but also to farmers from tropical developing countries who voluntarily plant and nurture tree species which can improve the productivity of their lands.[12] As little as US$90 will plant 900 trees, enough to annually remove as much carbon dioxide as is annually generated by the fossil-fuel usage of an average United States resident.[13]

Types of trees planted

A eucalyptus plantation

The type of tree planted may have great influence on the environmental outcomes. Planting the wrong kind of trees, such as monocultures of eucalyptus where they are not native species, can devastate the lands of the local people. However, it is often much more profitable to outside interests to plant non-native fast-growing trees, such as eucalyptus or pine (e.g., Pinus radiata or Pinus caribaea), even though the environmental and biodiversity benefits of such monoculture plantations are not comparable to native forest, and such offset projects are frequently objects of controversy (see below).

To promote the growth of native ecosystems, many environmentalists advocate only indigenous trees be planted. A practical solution is to plant tough, fast-growing native tree species which begin rebuilding the land. Planting non-invasive trees that assist in the natural return of indigenous species is called "assisted natural regeneration." There are many such species that can be planted, of which about 12 are in widespread use, such as Leucaena leucocephala.[14]


  1. ^ Tree planter website
  2. ^ Canadian health and safety with reference to treeplanting
  3. ^ Statistics about British planting
  4. ^ Landcare Research - EBEX21
  5. ^ Trees for the Future
  6. ^ a b Working Group III (July 2001). Bert Metz. ed. Climate Change 2001: Mitigation. World Meteorological Organization. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. doi:10.2277/0521015022. Retrieved 2007.  
  7. ^ Delft Hydraulics (2006-07-12). "PEAT-CO2: Assessment of CO2 emissions from drained peat lands in SE Asia." (PDF). Wetlands International. Retrieved 2007.  
  8. ^ S. G. Gibbard; K. Caldeira, G. Bala, T. Phillips, M. Wickett, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington (2005-10-29). "Climate effects of global land cover change". Geophysical Research Letters 32: L23705. doi:10.1029/2005GL024550. Retrieved 2007-02-22.  
  9. ^ "Global Cooling Centers". Trees for the Future. 2006. Retrieved 2007.  
  10. ^ Jha, Alok (2006-12-15). "Planting trees to save planet is pointless, say ecologists". The Guardian.,,1972648,00.html. "To plant forests to mitigate climate change outside of the tropics is a waste of time"  
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ "Providing farmers and communities in the tropics with long-term assistance implementing environmentally and economically sustainable technologies". Sustainable Harvest International. Retrieved 2007.  
  13. ^ "CO2 Emissions". Environmental Indicators. United Nations Statistics Division. June 2005. Retrieved 2007.  
  14. ^ Dave Deppner; John Leary, Karin Vermilye, Steve McCrea (2005) (PDF). The Global Cooling Answer Book (Second ed.). Trees for the Future. ISBN 1-879857-20-0. Retrieved 2007.  

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