‘I’ve never had so much fun in my life’

Tree planters chat about their summer so far

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

If you hang around outside a newspaper office, it’s only a matter of time before somebody comes out and asks for an interview. That’s what happened last week to tree planters Todd Bessette and Jared Underwood.

In town with some (or maybe all) of their tree-planting camp mates for a ‘laundry day,’ the pair chatted about where they’ve been planting, what it’s been like, and encouraged others to give it a try.

“Everybody has the option to plant trees,” said Underwood, who is originally from Sylvan Lake. “It’d be the best, or the worst, experience of your life.”

The worst? Apparently it’s not for everybody. Bessette said their crew started out about 80-strong but was down to 50 as of last week, with just six days of planting to go. The attrition was for various reasons – among them that some just didn’t like the work.

But for Bessette and Underwood, it’s been very good.

“I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” said Underwood.

Oddly enough, Underwood, at 21, is the veteran of the duo. It’s his second summer of planting. Bessette, 31, is trying it out for the first time.

“I should figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life,” said the Penticton resident, with a chuckle.

They work for Summit Reforestation and have been planting in locations in B.C. and Alberta in the past few weeks. The most recent is somewhere in the vicinity of Wabasca, on cutblocks logged by Al-Pac. Not very close to Wabasca, because Bessette missed his ride out of the bush one day and ended up walking 14 kilometres just to get back to the staging area. He arrived at around four in the morning. No harm done.

The crew had just a week of planting left, and were waiting for the arrival of the next batch of seedlings; hence the free day in town.

Planting can be very competitive, said Underwood.

Bessette takes a philosophical approach: “You can choose if it can be.”

Wildlife encounters are often part of the story in any bush camp or tree-planting scenario. But neither of these planters had much of any significance to report. Bessette saw a wolf; Underwood said there was a bear hanging around the camp “last night.” The usual tactic is to scare it away with loud noises.

Bees they didn’t mention, but a forester with a local company told The Leader recently wasp nests in the ground have become a big problem for planters this year. People are sticking their shovels (the tool they use to make the hole to insert the seedling) right into the nests, and getting stung on their hands. Apparently it’s quite hard to do the job when your hands are swollen up like a pair of boxing gloves.

But wasp attacks notwithstanding, several million coniferous seedlings will have been planted in the area again this season.

Todd Bessette and Jared Underwood, relaxing in town before heading back out to the bush for a final tree-planting push.

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