PotlatchDeltic 2022 ESG Report: Idaho Tree Planting
On our Idaho timberlands, nothing beckons the awakening of the forest to spring like the sudden bustle of tree planting season. In six to eight weeks, roughly 6 million seedlings are planted across 15,000 acres of forestland. Planting is the culmination of an 18-month process that involves planning, preparation, and the growing of seedlings in the nursery. The climate and steep terrain in Idaho force this uniquely compressed tree planting window. To ensure high planting survival, seedlings must be planted into moist, warming soils with adequate time to grow new roots and become established on the site before the inevitable summer dry-down comes. The logistics are challenging, yet our foresters, contractors, and support staff do an excellent job ensuring the planting crews are just behind the snow as it recedes up the mountains in the spring.
Seedlings for spring planting are grown at several different nurseries located throughout the Pacific Northwest and southern British Columbia. Over 90% of our seedlings are from first-generation tree improvement programs and more than 70% of the seed is sourced at PotlatchDeltic’s own Cherrylane Seed Orchard. Seedlings must be thawed and then shipped to our cold storage buildings. Thirty to forty deliveries are planned and executed to keep seedlings on hand for the planting crews while minimizing the time between thawing and planting to improve seedling out-planting success. Planting inspectors are on site at every planting unit to make sure the operations plan is followed and to sample planting quality. At the peak of planting season in early May, over 200 people are actively involved in the planting program with more than 280,000 seedlings per day being planted - over one square mile planted in each day!
We recently undertook initiatives to decrease seedling stock size to lower growing, transportation, and planting costs and to reduce the inputs per seedling, including water, energy, soil, fertilizer, and packaging. We plant up to 6 different conifer species. Every tree species has evolved to fill an ecological niche in the forest, and we match those attributes to the conditions of the planting site. Each planting site is reviewed by our foresters and the appropriate species are selected with multiple species often planted in one planting unit. This process bolsters the diversity and resiliency of our timberlands, minimizing risks from climate and disturbance. Idaho’s steep and variable terrain limits planting operations to manual hand planting. Planters use either a shovel or hoedads to open a hole to mineral soil in which the seedling is planted. Planters carry the seedlings in tree bags they wear via a belt and suspenders with seedling holding compartments located on either hip. Each planter carries between 220 and 300 seedlings at a time.
High-quality, detailed planting is critical to the growth and survival of the seedlings - a seedling planted with minor error such as a crooked root or one planted too shallow with the root plug exposed will not survive. The critical job of planting the seedlings is done by contractors that rely on H-2B temporary labor visas to staff their crews. Companies must go through a heavily regulated process to get approval for the capped number of visas available. This includes the demonstration that the jobs are posted and available to American citizens but cannot be filled domestically. If contractors cannot secure sufficient H2-B visas, the seedlings grown the previous year may be wasted, and reforestation that is critical for regulatory, certification, environmental management, and wildlife may be delayed. Planting crews consist of one foreperson and typically 14 planters. A tree planter averages 1,700 seedlings planted per day - that is one seedling every 3.5 seconds for 8 hours. The work is hard, but you will not find a more pleasant group of people to work with than those reforesting our timberlands. We’ve built long-standing relationships with many of the planting companies, with some working with us for more than a quarter century. Many of the tree planters return for many seasons to plant seedlings on PotlatchDeltic timberlands and it’s great to see familiar faces and build relationships year after year.
Tree planting is one of the most important investments a timberland company undertakes, setting the stage for the future and ensuring all the benefits that forests provide are perpetuated.