Sitka Silviculture: A day in the life of a tree planter

Photo Credit: Everett Bumstead

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional tree planter?

Scott Lemkay, co-owner of Sitka Silviculture with more than 20 years of tree planting under his belt, shares some of the benefits of tree planting, who the job is best suited for, and what a day in the life of a planter looks like.

Like many young people, upon completing high school, Lemkay didn’t know what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. It was a friend of his who turned him onto the idea of going tree planting, and so that’s exactly what he did, working his first rookie season for a small company in a remote location in northern BC. The following year, Lemkay was asked to manage two crews, propelling him into a management role at a young age. Over the years, he gained more and more responsibility, and four years ago, became a co-owner of Sitka Silviculture in Port Alberni, BC.

“It’s hard work, but very rewarding work,” says Lemkay. “One of the reasons I kept coming back was because of the work-life balance, active lifestyle, and the exceptional money you can make in a short amount of time. You work 10- to 15-hour days consistently throughout the growing season, which is usually between February and October, but then you get four to five months off. There’s also an option to prolong your season and work 10 out of the 12 months per year if you are driven by job security or have financial goals.”

As someone who craves adventure, Lemkay frequently used the off-season to travel around North and South America, as well as Asia and Australia. While the opportunity to travel is a huge draw for some, he also knows several people who plant throughout the summer to fund their post-secondary education or who do it as a career and are able to raise a family and buy a house. At the moment, Sitka Silviculture employs 11 local people who work year-round, tree planting and doing other work during the off-season such as survey work, chainsaw work, campground maintenance, and more.

A day in the life of a planter consists of getting up early in a bush camp, dressing as warm as possible, and then heading down to the cook shack to fill up on caffeine and a hearty breakfast. The planters make their lunches, fill up their water bottles, grab their gear, and then pile into the crew truck and travel to the work site. The person in the front seat is usually the DJ for the morning. “You’re with everyone that you’ve been working really hard with over the last weeks or months, so there’s great camaraderie and always good conversation,” says Lemkay.

Once the planters are dropped off at the planting site, they’re always trying to either beat yesterday’s numbers (as they’re paid per tree planted) or trying to race their partner. According to Lemkay, every day of planting offers another challenge to surmount, which is another reason why he loves the job so much. At the end of the day, the planters head back to camp where they can finally kick up their feet, sit around a fire, and enjoy a nice cold beverage before settling into their tents to rest up for another long day.

Lemkay says you learn a lot about yourself tree planting and living in a communal environment. “There’s just something about the camp lifestyle and hard work. You get to learn a lot about yourself and others and what they’re made of,” says Lemkay. “It’s a non-judgemental community that accepts a lot of different people without prejudice or bias. We love to make people feel comfortable and we always bring people in like they’re our own very easily.”

For people who might be considering a season of tree planting, or perhaps pursuing a career in the industry, Lemkay would tell you to set goals, whether they are personal or financial goals and exercise both halves of your body. He explains health and fitness are what will set you apart in the long term, looking after your body as well as your mind.

Lemkay couldn’t express enough how tree planting only opens doors and more possibilities for adventure in your life, for trying new things, and meeting new people. It can be an amazing vehicle for finding out who you are and for being able to discover what life is all about.

Throughout the planting season, Sitka Silviculture employees approximately 65 employees to plant about five million trees each year.

If you’d like to learn more about Sitka Silviculture or possible job opportunities, visit www.sitkasilviculture.com or email [email protected]com.