With one final antic—a tree-planter putting in his last 20 trees in the nude—another season of tree-planting has ended for Abitibi-Consolidated Inc.
Altogether this year, Abitibi has had roughly 5.5 million trees planted in the district’s forests by hand, and as much as double that by aerial seeding.
As required by the province, the company each year funds and monitors forest regeneration activities in areas it has harvested.
While scores of contractors are hired to make roads and harvest wood for the mill here, hundreds of others are hired for the scarifying, planting, and thinning required as part of the regeneration effort.
The contractor who manages the tree-planting sets the rates for the planters, many of who are post-secondary students from across the province looking to capitalize on the pay-per-tree rates.
But while many start the season, almost half leave in the first few weeks, leaving the hard-core planters to make the real money.
“The planters are responsible for their own accommodation, the contractor provides them with a cook and a kitchen,” said Jason Easton, a seasonal forester for Abitibi who also is one of a crew of mill staff always on hand to monitor the quality of the contractor’s work.
During the tree-planting season, quality control personnel help contractors check the plots of the 70-80 tree-planters to make sure the year-old saplings are being planted properly.
They also check up on contractors for thinning, scarifying, and other forest jobs.
Spaced six feet apart, the tiny spruce, white pine, and jack pine trees dot just under 700 hectares of forest. About double that has been seeded by aerial seeding with a helicopter, with about 50,000 seeds dropped per hectare.
But the regeneration doesn’t really end when the tree-planters roll up their sleeping bags. Quality control officers constantly are checking the growth of the trees.
“As the trees planted [by air] get a little older, we’ll go in with pre-commercial thinning and thin them out,” explained Easton
Trees planted by hand have an estimated 95 percent success rate in the first two years.
“Out of 1,500, we’re looking at harvesting 800-900 [in the long-term],” noted Dave Legg, a renewal forester with the mill. “If the whole block has a problem, then we start looking at growers who planted in that block, and which contractor.”
Tree species in the forest also constantly are being monitored.
“Our regeneration plan has us emphasizing spruce in tree-planting because we’ve recognized a shortage of spruce,” noted Legg.
Office staff constantly are working on regeneration techniques as part of a required plan approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources, which collects a certain percentage of harvesting fees for regeneration, which goes back to Abitibi and similar companies for their regeneration initiatives.
“For every cubic metre of conifer that we harvest, we will be paying $5.50 into renewal fund and for every cubic metre of poplar and white birch, we will be paying 50 cents, and that money is only eligible by Abitibi to renew the forest so that’s where we get the funding from,” Legg explained.
Just this spring, staff finished a 27-month planning period spent writing a new forest management plan. After a couple years’ respite, work will begin again as the plan approaches its renewal date in five years.
This year, work was compounded by the fact the district’s forested areas were amalgamated into one Crossroute Forest Management Area.