B.C. tree planting companies are now required to implement plans to fight the spread of the pandemic at work camps, including field camps and hotel accommodations.

The plans must be submitted to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Bonnie Henry April 23 issued an order for industrial camps also applicable to agricultural, aquacultural, forestry and resource sector workers, as well as those who provide accommodation for them. The order set out prevention, control and inspection protocols.

“Tree planting is crucial to the health of our forests, and we are instituting strict measures based on the [Henry’s] expert direction to make sure that it is done in a way that protects workers and the people of British Columbia,” said Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson.

Every year, about 5,000 tree planters, primarily from B.C. and other Canadian provinces, travel to work in remote camps and communities throughout the province.

This year, to reduce and mitigate the risks of COVID-19, all tree planters will be subject to strict screening procedures for symptoms of infection before admission to field camps or community accommodations.

The province had hoped to plant some 314 million seedlings this year, part of B.C.’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change and reduce the ravages of past wildfires and other forest threats.

Donaldson said it is a record number while chief forester Diane Nicholls remains hopeful all will get planted.

The BC Centre for Disease Control guidelines for those working in the silviculture sector require:

  • screening of workers for COVID-19 symptoms or potential exposure;
  • added hygiene measures in camps, including handwashing stations;
  • training workers on staying safe while travelling to camp and to worksites;
  • food preparation guidelines;
  • limiting travel outside of camp, and;
  • having at least one infection and control co-ordinator at each site.

The sector employs up to 5,000 planters each year, many from outside the province or other countries.

The latter would have to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine. All would be expected to be educated in protocols for this season.

Provincial prevention and control officers have been tasked with ensuring health and safety measures are in place. The province has implemented on-site security at motels and hotels to ensure tree planters adhere to the Henry’s orders and guidance.

Nicholls said the security is to provide communities in which planters are staying assurance that outsides are not spreading disease.

“Young people are gregarious,” Donaldson said. “I’m sure they understand the risks at hand.”

Added Nicholls, “To ensure that and give communities piece of mind, we will be hiring third-party security to be patrolling motels and hotels.”

Donaldson said the guidelines are aimed at protecting the health of tree-planters and those in the communities out of which they work.

“We have heard from rural/remote communities about wanting to make sure work in communities can continue safely, and that is why we have worked collaboratively to develop these guidelines for tree planting,” Donaldson said.

Forestry and silviculture were included in a March 26 list of essential services due to provision of wood, pulp and paper and soft-pulp products used to make medical supplies, such as protective masks, drapes and screens.

Western Forestry Contractors’ Association executive director John Betts said the sector has been busy preparing for a season operating under COVID-19 since early in the year.

He said 400 coastal region planters have been working since February and remain symptom-free.