The quality check is performed using a plot, which you create by randomly sticking your shovel into the ground somewhere and check all the trees which have fallen within an 8 foot radius of that shovel. First the treeplanting company’s checkers or foremen check your trees, but then the forestry does the same, according to “pay plots”. The location of those are not random but prescribed beforehand according to set procedures or GPS coordinates.
Each tree that lies within a plot may be dug up and unearthed to make sure that the tree has been planted properly. This usually means a straight and vertical plug, planted at the correct depth and in acceptable planting medium (the right soil). The root shouldn’t be damaged or torn by the shovel, but the degree of strictness depends on the contract or forester.
The expected number of trees with their spacing depends on the contract and conditions, but generally they want around 8 trees per plot, which translates into a spacing of 2.5 metres between trees. But because it is not a perfect world but one filled with dead logs and all sorts of other slash, you are allowed to plant up to some designated “minimum spacing”, such as 1.5 metres. But even given such leeway with spacing, a large amount of slash can result in fewer “plantable spots” than the prescribed amount. For example, there might be only 6 plantable spots available in a prescribed plot of 8 trees. The checker can assess the plot and deduce that there are fewer plantable spots.
However, in such cases you would be expected to plant your trees closer together, such as 1.5 metres apart (whatever the contract minimum is), so as to squeeze in as many as possible. It is a numbers game since many trees can die and they want to have the greaterst bang for their investment buck. The logging company/forester chooses the spacing and planting requirements based on the conditions and their experience and research of the area. If, for example, you planted your trees at regular spacing in a slashy area, you might get graded “5 trees planted in 6 possible out of a prescribed 8”. If they dig up your five and one of them is found to be a “J root” (meaning not straight and resembles the letter J), you get graded “4 out of 6 possible”, which works out to 4/6 or 66.66%. In B.C. you are generally allowed a 7% margin of error, meaning 93% is a pass. Anything less results in a fine. Quality as poor as 75% generally results in ZERO payment. There is some complex sliding scale formula, but with only a 7% allowable margin for error, you are generally required to produce perfect trees. Inevitably, it can then become a whining game where exhausted looking treeplanters try to gain the sympathy of the forester, who might then overlook certain leniancies. Other times the forester might demand a replant of an entire area, while other foresters do not want trees pulled out of the ground and damaged, so the fine stays. For “replants”, the entire crew might be sent to fix and doctor up trees, or the planters responsible for originally filling those areas might be chosen.
If a replant is not permitted or failed, a fine might stick and then be either absorbed by the treeplanting company or distributed in some way among the planters. Generally, I have never had to suffer a fine and most foresters will gradually become lenient, or offer some option of a replant.
The plot is created by wrapping the loop end of a pink, 8 foot long plot cord around the handle of the shovel standing in the ground. Your employer will generally provide you with one, expecting you to quality control your own trees. You then pull on the loose end and walk in a circle around your shovel, counting all the trees that fall within the 8 foot plot cord length. Especially as a rookie tree-planter, it is good to occasionally use your plot cord to measure your spacing. You can put strips of duct tape (seems a planter’s best friend, as it faithfully serves so many purposes) along the plot cord to measure your prescribed and minimum spacing. Obviously, for someone who is just starting, it is difficult to visually gauge what 2.5 or 1.5 metres looks like, or to guestimate how many trees are in your average plot. When I am uncertain or receiving some heat from a checking foreman, I might take several plot readings on a third bagout, bagging out somewhere away from the cache so that I could take several plot measurements while walking back to my cache. It only takes a few minutes and will help you adjust your spacing. If the prescribed number of trees is 8 and you just took four plot readings yielding two tens, a 9 and an 11, it means you have to loosen up your spacing a bit. Sometimes the foreman will ask you to loosen up to seven per plot for a while, in order to compensate for your three bagups of densely planted trees. Other times, if you produced consistent plots of 4s and 5s, you might be asked to go back to your area (always referred to as a “replant”) and fill in your trees with more, “pumping up” your density, so to speak.
If a cross foreman comes back to your piece and receives news from you that you had taken several plot readings, determined you were still a bit dense and undertaken the appropriate adjustments, they might forgive you and let you plant further without sending you back. The problem though is that the foreman will be communicating occasionally with the forester, meaning that it may take a few days for a certain error to be labelled unacceptable, in which case you might be sent back to your area many days later. For this reason, it is generally advisable to aim for consistently quality trees at the correct spacing, and use your plot cord occasionally (especially as a rookie planter) to measure yourself and perform your own quality control. By producing consistent quality trees, the foremen will generally leave you alone and be more helpful for you, such as by giving you better ground. But there is also the margin game, inching down quality, overusing your minimum spacing, dancing with the checker foreman who dances with the forester, aiming for marginally acceptable trees in order to maximise income. Many fast planters regularly play this sort of game and this is something you will have to experiment by yourself, and decide how close to the line you want to go. For me, with all the tricks I am listing on these pages and moderate physical effort, I was managing 250 dollars a day and respectable trees, for which I was thanked and developed a solid position in the company.