Non-Field Employees Help Plant 4000 Trees | Rayonier Stories

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Rayonier Support Employees Plant 4000 Trees at Planting Day

The support employees, who do not work in the field, got to experience what it’s like to plant a forest of baby trees under the watchful eye of our foresters at this team-building event.

YULEE, Fla.—It wasn’t bad for first-timers: a group of about 50 Rayonier support employees came together to plant thousands of trees in a matter of hours just down the road from Rayonier’s corporate headquarters in Wildlight, Fla.

But the employees from fields such as human resources, IT, accounting and legal were shocked to find out that a single skilled professional planter can plant just as many trees—about 4,000— in a single day.

The team-building event, dubbed More Than Planting Day, was a great opportunity for field employees to educate coworkers about how our most important resource gets its start. Rayonier plants more than 30 million trees annually to reforest our land.

A woman digs a hole while another holds a seedling
Legal Counsel Jamie Northrup digs a hole while Director of HR and Employee Experience Liz Estera prepares a seedling for planting.

“One of the most important activities we do in the forest’

“Of all the many activities we do in the forest, planting’s perhaps one of the most important,” said Coastal Resource Unit Leader Jeremy Flood, who leads a team of foresters in Northeast Florida. 

“When you see a log truck going down the road or you’re purchasing a piece of lumber at the store, that’s the result of a tree that was planted many decades ago. And the trees we’re planting today are going to be trees that we’re going to use, our children are going to use, and we’re just planting that resource for the future.”

Two men in orange vests work together to plant a seedling
Operations Safety Manager Patrick Hughes digs a hole while Ryan Mayo, Senior Manager of Forest Inventory and Planning, prepares the next seedling to plant.

It started with a lesson from the foresters

Foresters from Rayonier’s Coastal Resource Unit team kicked off the event by explaining to their coworkers the basics of planting: how to dig a small hole, carefully place the seedling deep into the ground, and then firmly press the soil back over the roots. Then they demonstrated how to walk the correct distance from the seedling before planting the next one to ensure even spacing.

“Your job today is to plant these 8 acres,” announced Senior Resource Land Manager Ed Carter. He held a seedling up for the group to see and added, “This is out of our nursery in Elberta. This is a typical loblolly seedling.”

A group of employees stands around a forester at the planting site
Senior Resource Land Manager Ed Carter gives the “rookie” planters a tutorial before setting them loose to plant the 8-acre tract.

Trees we can call our own

In fact, not only were some of the seedlings grown for 6 to 7 months in our nursery in Elberta, Alabama, but also the seeds were harvested from pine cones in our seed orchard. In other words, these were definitely baby trees we could call our own! To learn more about how we control-pollinate our pinecones and collect their seeds, watch our video, “Breeding and Collecting Pinecones By the Truckload for Future Forests.” And you can take a virtual tour of our pine tree nursery here to watch how we grow 30 million seedlings a year.

Once they received instructions, the “trainees” paired up and chose bedded rows to plant their seedlings in. (The bedded rows of soil were prepared in advance to ensure better survival and growth of the young seedlings. You can learn more about that planting method in our article, Site Prep Essential for Southeastern Forestry.)

Two women in safety vests work together to plant a Rayonier pine tree by hand
It only took about two hours for the support team to plant 4,000 seedlings. Revenue Specialist Caitlin Harris, left, and Senior Revenue Specialist Laura Peacock, right, work together to hand-plant a seedling.

Quality time with coworkers

There was a lot of laughing as well as a lot of sweating and hard work as the team began planting. 

“There was a lot more to it than I expected,” said Brean Thompson, Senior Marketing Coordinator for the Wildlight community (a part of Rayonier’s Taxable REIT subsidiary). “I didn’t realize that so much of our planting is done by hand rather than by machine.”

“It was hard work!” agreed Michael Noonan, Rayonier’s manager of Timberland Investments. “The seedlings were smaller than I expected. I was expecting to see a 2-gallon tree or something, but we were out there with little containerized seedlings.”

Despite the seedlings’ small size, just inches in height, they should be taller than the people who planted them within 2 years.

In the years to come, Rayonier employees will be able to return to the forest, which is close to A1A, a main thoroughfare in Nassau County, to see the progress of the trees they planted.

The Concept Originated with Our New Zealand Team

The idea for the event originated with Rayonier’s New Zealand team, which invites guests by the 1000s to plant trees in some of the forests we manage there.

“We wanted to do it over here because they’ve had such success over there with team building and bringing everybody together through these events,” explained Senior Executive Assistant Alyssa Hightower, one of the event organizers. It lets [participants] see the forest from the beginning and become a little bit more invested in watching the company grow to its future success.”

Woman takes selfie of herself with a large group of people planting trees on a steep hillside
Auckland-based Christina Rollings, Business Administrator for Lands, Legal and Business Process Management, takes a break for a quick selfie during a planting day event on New Zealand’s Whangamata Peninsula.

A reminder of the role our industry plays in the world

Alyssa said the first annual U.S. event was a great success.

“I love building experiences for other people and that, in itself, is so integral to a successful culture, to a successful business because you need to know your people,” she said. “You need that face-to-face interaction and that’s what builds the community within Rayonier. It’s also so important to have that actual connection with the forest, the core of our business.”

A group of employees laughing together at the planting event
A group of support employees shares a laugh as planting wraps up.

She said it was a powerful reminder of the important role our industry plays in the world:

“The forestry industry is vital to the world because when we plant new trees, these baby trees, they provide habitat for wildlife, they provide us clean air, they provide clean water, it just keeps going.”

And when the trees reach maturity—about 20 years from now—they will also support many jobs in our local economy as they become products.

“I grew up here, but until I actually came to Rayonier, I never really understood how diverse forestry is, number one, but how many wood products in general are just in our everyday life. It’s important to see that we provide that resource sustainably and that we’re planting trees, we’re not just cutting them down.”

To learn more about the many products that come from trees—including lesser-known products that rely on our industry such as medicines, bath products, and even many health foods—check out our #ItStartsWithTrees series here.

Woman standing on shovel to drive it into the ground and man holding seedling next to her
Senior Executive Assistant Alyssa Hightower digs a hole while her boss, Executive Vice President and Chief Resource Officer Doug Long, stands ready with a seedling.

Many More Planting Days to Come

With the successful event coming to a close, it was agreed more employee planting days would be arranged in the future. 

“Rayonier has a great support staff,” Jeremy said. “When you talk to folks that work with us and support us in the field each day, they have a lot of energy around what we do. So, this was a great opportunity to get our team members in the field with us, to get their hands in the dirt and see what we do on a daily basis.”

While our support teams will have to wait a year for the next More than Planting Day, our professional planters will continue planting vigorously throughout the winter months in the U.S. and planting will resume in what the U.S. considers summertime months in New Zealand. (You can learn more about our professional planting operations across our ownership here).

Rayonier has planted almost 1.5 billion trees since our inception, and we’ll continue adding to that number every year.

Two women work together to hand plant a seedling
Rayonier GIS Manager Kelli Norstrem places a seedling in the ground while Real Estate GIS Analyst Amy Hulsey holds the soil out of the way with her shovel.
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