For the last week, there have been new faces in our rural, industrial town.Tanned faces belonging to bohemian personalities, lithe bodies and cheeky smiles. For us foreigners, tree planting season came as a complete surprise and a welcome diversion from the oil and gas workers we see all year round.
Modern-day hippies, complete with promises of free love and summer fun, the tree planters are young, gorgeous and ever so off-beat. They spend their summers planting seeds for big forestry companies (for what gets cut needs to be reforested), often to pay for university tuition or travel.
According to tree-planter.com, planters need to buy their own gear for the job (such as shovels, cords, tarps and planting bags as well as camping gear, boots and outdoor clothes) which can cost several hundred dollars, meaning that almost all planters work for at least two or three consecutive seasons.
Most companies pay planters per tree (or seed), leading to one of the many industry in jokes, “I bend over for eight cents”. Planters only receive money for trees that have been well planted and that adhere to strict quality and density requirements. The going rate is usually between eight and twenty-five cents.
The job has been recorded as one of the most physically challenging occupations in the world, and the bush living conditions are rough – often endured for months at a time. But tree-planting becomes an addiction and the planters a tribe and family.