A different kind of essential service is becoming a good news story during the pandemic, with tree-planting activities in Ontario hitting about 80 to 85% of their target for the year in spite of logistical snags due to physical distancing.
Planters were up against a use it or lose it moment, said Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario: seedlings are nurtured over a specified period of time, and they have to be planted by late May in the southern part of the province to maximize their chance of surviving the summer heat. Which meant foresters had to scramble to adapt their schedule after the coronavirus hit.
“You’ve got seedlings in the field that have been growing for two or three years, and they’re set to come out of the ground in a specific year,” Keen explained, before they get too big to be planted properly. “The nurseries grow the stock to meet a certain standard at a specific year, then they get lifted, bagged, and shipped out to the various sites. If you don’t get them lifted, they’re likely to get buried, unfortunately.”
The actual planting conformed well with physical distancing requirements, since planters routinely work quite far apart to make sure the trees themselves are properly spaced. Nursery operations were a different story.
But “a lot of organizations out there came up with some very good protocols to ensure safety and make personal protective equipment available,” he said. “It added some complexity to the operation, and probably had an impact on normal productivity. But we had to get those trees growing, and that meant we really needed to get out there and get them planted.”