Close up of seedling planted in a cut block

Renewable Resource: Planting Trees, Growing Healthy Forests

Many people perceive the forest industry as the industry of cutting trees, not growing them. The truth is that, sustainably managed, the forest sector is one of the earth’s most renewable natural resources industry. West Fraser is planting the seeds of forest regrowth every year - 1.7 BILLION trees - since 1955.

In the southern U.S., the majority of our log supply comes from private landowners, who replant their own lands. In Canada where forestland is largely publicly-owned, West Fraser’s license to harvest comes with the responsibility to replant and grow a healthy new forest for the future.

Every hectare we harvest is reforested with a similar mix of tree types by planting seedlings, supporting natural regrowth, or by directly seeding the area. We tend to these reforested sites for more than a decade before they can be evaluated as “free to grow,” meaning that the seedlings are well-established and on their way to becoming a new forest. 

West Fraser aims to reforest a site within two years of harvest. Silviculture foresters plan out how a harvested area will be reforested and what mix of trees will be planted, but the job of planting thousands of trees a day falls to tree planters.

Being a tree planter is a mentally and physically demanding job that lasts about 3-5 months in the summer months. Although many speak about the hard work it requires, planters choose to return year after year for the camaraderie and team atmosphere that is also a part of tree planting camps.

Tree planting in dense slash after harvestingTree planting requires a mix of technical attributes, physical skills and endurance. It is hard to speak about averages, as ground and weather conditions have a big effect on productivity, but an experienced tree planter can average about 2,000 seedlings in a day. If conditions are perfect, an expert tree planter may plant more than 5,000 seedlings per day. At about 2,000 trees a day, it would take more than 500 tree planters to plant the more than 60 million trees that West Fraser plants every year.

Photo at left: Planting in higher elevations with dense slash can be slow going with 60 pounds of trees.

Planting a seedling in a cut blockGovernment tree planting inspection reports have 25 different requirements for a well-planted tree, which must be met in addition to West Fraser’s specific requirements for planting. For example, the right tree species must be planted in the right forest area, the soil must be the right moisture content; it can’t be too wet or too dry for the type of tree being planted. The depth of the hole that is dug must be exact, placed the correct distance from other seedlings without any air pockets or improper shading. Seedlings must be handled with care, but a plant bag can weigh close to 60 pounds when fully loaded. Tree planters must be extremely careful about the care of seedlings despite the heavy weight of their equipment.

Photo at right: Ensuring a seedling is planted properly is the first step to ensure that the seedling will have the right start to thrive as it grows. The flagging tape helps silviculture foresters see the seedlings for quality surveys.

So, what happens after an area is replanted with young seedlings?

From collecting the seeds to nurturing them in the tree nurseries, and planting healthy seedlings in our forest operating areas, it is very important to us to have a healthy, established renewable resource under our care, but the story does not end thereWest Fraser’s forestry team will observe, survey, and manage the forest area well after the original seedlings are planted. In Canada, West Fraser is responsible for the trees for up to 20 years from the time the seedlings are in the ground. We will monitor the health of the seedling and remove competing vegetation to give the trees the best chance to grow strong and healthy.

“We are proud of our excellent reforestation record, and we continue to explore new ways to improve our reforestation and silviculture practices,” says Larry Gardner, Vice-President, Canadian Woodlands. Successful reforestation is a team effort that involves many committed people to regrow a vibrant forest.