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BC's Silviculture History

There is a saying that “history is written by the victor.” A different version of this quote is that history is written by folks who had the desire, means, time, and energy to document it and who feel comfortable speaking up about it now.

Most of this information is BC-centric. Eventually, our goal is to flush out this timeline to reflect the history of tree planting in all of Canada. History can be subjective. While building this timeline we worked to focus on facts and versions of key events from subject matter experts, but we’d love to hear from you about your lived experiences with these events or if you have alternative sources of information.

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Please consider reaching out to us if you have any versions of events that differ from this timeline, as sharing multiple perspectives is an important part of equity and inclusion.

The Beginning

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1960s

  • The government owned tree seedlings

  • Setting the tone for the culture

    • Social fermentation - Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the draft and the Vietnam War, rejection of consumer middle America created a counterculture, idealist young-mad-at-the-world folks rejecting expectations informed the early days' culture of tree planting

  • Hoedads co-op 

    • Co-ops can work well or can lead to exploitation like any working relationship 

    • Historically co-ops can struggle because of the tension between who is actually running the contract and how the money is distributed

    • The exploitation of immigrants 

    • Versions of co-op spirit have survived up until the present day

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1970s

  • The realization that there was not an unending supply of timber

  • The government started advertising for contractors

  • The industry was inventing itself, folks were in their early 20s, and there were no “adults” around

  • Birth of piece rate system 

  • No flagging - line planting was fashionable  

  • Staff shovel comes into play 

  • Individual land management came later in the 70s

  • Fungicide residue on trees brought contractors and workers together to solve a problem

  • Stoop labour was considered grunt work and easy for folks to be exploited but with the piece rate system they were able to make greats amount of money “we were making as much as west coast fallers” (John Betts) 

  • Pacific Reforestation Workers Association (PRWA) formed

    • A peculiar combination of contractors and workers - this was the continuation of “we are all in this together”

  • Divide between workers and management

  • First Jamboree, a party that would happen late summer in Prince George

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1980s

  • Contractors formed Western Silviculture Contractors Association (WSCA)

    • WSCA branched off from the PRWA because they had different interests, contractors wanted to work together as the industry became more safety focused

    • Political lobbyist group, building relationships with government officials

  • Contractors worked for the government up until 1988, then the Ministry was no longer responsible for all tree planting - this got the industry out of the low-bid auction

    • Pre 1988 all contracts with the government were for only one year, this created a very unstable industry as a company couldn’t rely on work past one year 

  • Amendment to the Forest Act (1988) that mandated anyone who logged an area was responsible for replanting it (by artificial planting or natural regeneration) 

    • This change also introduced the concept of “Free to Grow”

    • Any licensee, as part of its legal contract allowing it to log on crown land, had to restock the land until any new stand was “Free to Grow”

    • This changed the low-bid auction as licensees moved to more long-term relationships with contractors, licensees no longer wanted the lowest bidder, they wanted folks who could do the job properly

    • This break out of government bidding created more competition which improved industry standards 

  • The industry saw an increase in the number of trees due to the 1988 Forest Act amendments as well as a series of Federal Resource Development Agreements (FRDA) between the provincial and federal governments

    • There was money to deal with Non Sufficiently Restocked (NSR) areas

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1990s

  • Saw the beginning of a stable contracting community with long-term contracts, select tenders, etc. contractors were able to plan longer-term from year to year

  • 1995/6, WSCA received a grant from Forest Renewal BC (FRBC) to hire a full-time Executive Director, before 1996 there were no paid positions

  • 1997/99, WSCA worked with the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) and silviculture workers to create a special ESB regulation in which piece work was recognized under the Act

    • Before this, the industry was operating outside the regulation with a potential unfunded overtime liability

  • FRDA money dried up, licensees became very cost-conscious, and silviculture workers were pressured to keep their reforestation costs in the bottom 25% of the Price Waterhouse silviculture cost survey

    • Prices became depressed, wages stagnated and in some cases decreased

  • Licensees began to demand safety programs

  • WSBC began to promote health and safety associations for different sectors

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2000s

  • 2001 - cabinet order promoting employment standards for tree planting including regulations governing overtime, holiday pay, vacation 

    • because of piece work there were ESA issues with how employees were paid

    • set a limit for camp costs

    • shut down other avenues for exploitation 

    • however it gave flexibility for industry to continue using piece work system

    • piece work falls under the ESA standards 

    • Canadian Reforestation and Environmental Workers Society + WSCA (section 3 of the regulation) - created minimum wage for workers / people got paid every two weeks  

  • Safety becomes more of a focus for the entire industry

  • WSCA considers joining existing health and safety association Forest and Ranch Safety Health Association (FARTIA) or the Forest Industry Safety Association (FISA) 

  • Contractors vote against joining FISA believing at the time that it was better to compete on safety than to cooperate

  • 2003, subsequent to this, contractors agree to join FISA and agree to the levy in order to cooperate and work together to reduce injury and increase safety 

  • 2004, BC government threatens to shut down forestry industry as a whole due to run away fatalities and injuries

  • 2004, Forest Safety Task Force and industry signing the Forest Safety Accord

  • 2004/05 - WSCA signs the accord and contributes to the formation as the founding members of the BC Forest Safety Council 

  • Safety audits become a requirement to operate in the forest industry as part o the Council’s mandate 

  • Focus moments - 48 deaths in the logging industry 

  • 2006, WFCA signs an agreement with the BCFSC to establish ongoing funding for the BC SAFE Forestry Program agreement​

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2010s

  • The amalgamation of the WSCA and Independent Consulting Foresters of BC (ICFBC)

  • ICFBC wanted the networking with the government that WSCA had because of lobbying capabilities 

  • International Woodworkers of America (IWA)

    • Didn’t get along. They thought Canadian planters were hindering progress.

  • 2013, hearing from a parent of a child who died during a truck accident while working as a tree planter - bearing down with more convictions

  • Labour market information analysis - legitimized tree planting as a “job.” 

    • Planters were not seen as a legitimate occupation - in 2013, planting as a job was measured, giving it legitimacy as an occupation.  

    • Mission-critical because the industry was ineligible for training or funding  

    • Being recognized by the government as a legitimate occupation, not just a lifestyle

    • This gave the first statistical confirmation of workplace bullying and harassment. 

  • Forest Safety Advocate position was created to work with the industry to develop health and safety programs and share information.

  • 2014/15 labour market information analysis finding regarding the prevalence of bullying and harassment by survey respondents - this marked the beginning of a strategy to reveal and deal with the problem of sexual violence in the sector 

  • 2017 MeToo is present at the WFCA conference setting in motion industry-wide education and measures to deal with misogyny and violence in the silviculture sector

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2020s to present

  • Hello COVID - some communities were calling to cancel the 2020 planting season which turned out to be one of the largest ever at 314 million seedlings. 

  • Five thousand planters from across the province and the country planted almost all of them without a single worker testing positive

  • In 2021, the tree planting sector was a finalist for the Premier's Award for Partnership - recognizing the silviculture industry had earned the trust and confidence of communities and agencies across BC. 

  • BC 2020 Planting Season

  • Premier's Innovation and Excellence Awards

  • 2020, tree planting attracted national news headlines after accounts of sexual assault were presented at the WFCA annual conference by the Northern Society of Domestic Peace

  • The government begins to review the forest range practises act with the view to transform forest stewardship in the province 

  • WFCA would not have been able to navigate the COVID crises without the Strategic Advisory Committee - credibility with WorkSafe BC, BC Safety Forestry Council

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