Spacers Welcome Hard Work

Published in Pacific Renewal Reporter.

Spacing trees is a tough job and those who do it take great pride in their skills.

“It’s the kind of work that few men want to do because it’s very hard work requiring a lot of knowledge and skill, and you never get a good area,” said Nathan Heanski, area supervisor of Powell/Daniels Block 28, eight kilometres northeast of Powell River.

“When we drive up from camp in the morning, we honk the horn to let the bears know to stay away,” said Heanski. “There are quite a few mothers with cubs around here.

“Before we brought the crew in, Kevin Moore and Daniel Laboissiere marked off all the areas to be spaced with ribbons and numbered them.  We put all the numbers in a hat and each person picks one. Today, they’re either freezing in the shade or boiling in the sun. Somehow, no one gets a good area but it’s no big deal to people who expect to work in all weathers.”

Heanski waved in a couple of the spacers working at the lower ends of the vertical strips on the sunny side. Sweat beaded their foreheads as they gulped down water

At age 59, Dan Fahlman from Texada Island is one of the oldest spacers on the coast.  His doctor recommended regular exercise after he had some heart problems a few years ago.

“I don’t see the sense in pumping iron,” he said. “I have to see a pile of wood or something. Ever since I started back as a spacer, I haven’t had any chest pains.  There’s nothing more rewarding in the world. It’s like running a marathon.”

Despite 15 years of experience, Fahlman can’t always find work.  In April he was tree planting, considered harder and less interesting than spacing. “I was glad this Forest Renewal BC job came along so that I could get back to spacing.”

Serge Tanguay of Courtenay has a similar story. Like Fahlman, Tanguay was forced to collect employment insurance.  When it ran out, Tanguay found himself in serious trouble.

“I’ve got 16 years of spacing experience and yet I lost everything,” he said. “The last time I worked was Jan 15, 1996.  I was on welfare and was about to take a job washing dishes when this opportunity came up. I was glad to get it despite the fact that so many horseflies attacked me this morning that I thought I’d run into a bees’ nest.” Hazards such as horsefly attacks come with the spacing job.

Laboissierre echoed concerns about lack of work. Even though he spent 14 years tree planting and does brushing, weeding and pruning as well as spacing, it had been over a year since he last had a job.

The Powell/Daniels spacing project, made possible through a $290,000 Forest Renewal BC investment, and others like it are vital to people like Fahlman, Tanguay, Laboissiere and the other crew members.