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Wolfville student inspired by tree-planting summer in B.C. wilderness

The crew planted one million trees in a three-month span.
The crew planted one million trees in a three-month span. - Contributed
WOLFVILLE, N.S. —

It was never his dream to grow up and plant trees.

But Wolfville resident Joseph Bishop can hardly wait to get back at it again next summer.

“I can’t think of a job that’s more rewarding, more fun, or more educational than what I’ve been doing for the past three months,” the 21-year-old said in a recent interview.  

“I can easily say it’s been the best summer of my life.”

Since the beginning of May, the Acadia student has been camping in the forests of British Columbia, planting thousands upon thousands of saplings. The adventure presented itself to him, and he jumped at the opportunity.

He packed his bags and temporarily bid adieu to the province he grew up in.

“A lot of tree planting hires are based off of finding a crew boss who wants to hire you on his crew all summer. I happened to strike a friendship with one of these crew bosses, though I had no idea at the time,” Bishop recalls.

“As we got to know each other, he told me I’m a level-headed and well-rounded person, and he said those are the kinds of people that do well in tree-planting camps. He asked me to join him in Prince George at the start of the summer, and I just decided to do it. In his eyes, I was just some random dude he thought may be a good fit, so really we were both taking a chance.”

After arriving in British Columbia, the crew had a lot to absorb before they were sent into the wilderness.

“We had a classroom session when we got there, which was when we learned about all of the safety procedures. A lot of people assume there’s not a lot of legal preparation that has to go into training a planter, but we had dozens of safety orientations and online courses about wilderness safety,” Bishop says.

“They had to equip us with everything we needed to survive out in the bush - wasp safety, weather safety, how to identify heat stroke, survival skills - everything. What’s left for us to figure out is how to actually plant the trees.”

Learning to plant trees takes patience and practice, says Bishop. The initial months were spent working on his technique, and as he became a more efficient planter, his income began to rise.

“First-year planters like me usually have to spend the first season self-teaching, which means you aren’t making as much as the experienced planters, but by the end you get the hang of it, and it makes people want to come back next year. I know I’m going to.”

For the remainder of the summer, Bishop improved on his technique and became a skilled planter.

He says his passion for the environment drove him to work so hard.

“I’m doing a degree in environmental science with a minor in biology. While I was in British Columbia, I definitely saw firsthand what we were learning about in the classroom. What I noticed the most were the impacts of invasive species like the northern pine and spruce beetles,” he said.

“We would always talk about them in class and how they’re destroying forests, but this was something I had never seen in Nova Scotia, so it didn’t really seem like a big problem. Then when I went to B.C., I saw hectares and hectares of just black forests. It was like a graveyard of trees, and it looks disgusting. Seeing and realizing the effects of the stuff we’ve done studies on in class was a real wake-up call for me.”

Bishop says gaining experience in a field he enjoys reinforces his decision to pursue his interest in environmental studies.

Aside from learning about the environment, Bishop feels he’s also improved his interpersonal skills.

“When you’re in the middle of the woods, you start to get away from the conveniences of modern society, and I mean that in a good way. My friends from home will often just sit around on their phones, hardly talking to each other,” he said.

“After going three months without really looking at my phone and having strictly face-to-face conversations, I grew a lot as a person. The relationships I made are unlike any others. You’re with these people day and night for three months straight. You wake up together, eat together, work together, and then at the end of the day you hang out together. Every night we had a campfire where everyone would just hang around and play music. There were guitarists, drummers, singers - you name it. It was just such a positive atmosphere.”

He's certain it’s been a summer he will not soon forget.

“You learn a lot about other people, but the person you learn the most about is yourself.”

From the start of May to the end of July, Bishop’s crew of 14 planted more than one million trees.

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