Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Driving can be riskiest part of tree planting

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Tree planting, either as a summer job for students or as a way of life for seasonal workers, is woven deeply into Canadian culture.

It sounds benign, a frolic through the forest, occasionally tucking a tree safely in the ground. It is, in fact, absolutely brutal work. To be a successful tree planter is a significant statement about a person's physical and mental strength. This is not strength in the weightlifter sense -- many of the best tree planters are women, and the guys tend to be hard-core wiry rather than bulked up.

Eating Dirt, by Charlotte Gill, gives a wonderful description of what it's like to be a long-term tree planter.

A few weeks ago, I was at a Western Silviculture Association (WSCA) meeting in Kamloops, B.C., running a resource-road driving course. The course was originally developed in response to a needs assessment that found driving on resource roads was the single biggest risk facing the industry. The initial curriculum was put together by the WSCA, in conjunction with the B.C. Forest Safety Council.

I was brought onto the team about a year ago to further develop the curriculum. It was a good fit and not just because of my racing and advanced driving background. I was a tree planter as well, so I'm familiar with the environment.

In Canada, according to the CIA World Factbook, we have 415,600 km of paved roads and 626,700 km of unpaved ones. Those unpaved roads generally still meet certain standards because they're built for general use.

Resource roads, on the other hand, are usually built for use by those involved in mining, forestry and so on. They're built to withstand the weight of heavy vehicles and machinery. They do not have to conform to the design criteria of roads intended for public use. But, of course, many of us who love the outdoors use these roads, as well.

On a resource road, a driver has to be prepared for anything. While most vehicles carry two-way radios, many recreational users do not. On the roadway itself, hazards are unlikely to be marked. Logging trucks go as fast as they dare, because sometimes that extra load brought to the mill makes the difference in meeting payments. Plenty of hazards, no shortage of risk.

If your son or daughter is out tree-planting this spring, that's the environment they'll likely face. While the actual work is gruelling and dirty, the highest risk will likely be on the resource roads or even the highways leading to them.

Those of us involved in the training program have made resource-road safety a mission. All of us have seen the results of mistakes, and help is usually far away. Our training puts a huge emphasis on the correct mental approach for safety, as well as the driving skills.

If you're interested in learning more, take a look at the WSCA website.

Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2012 F10

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