Checking planting quality helps to ensure that the trees planted on the site will form a free growing stand.
Planting quality can be checked in a number of ways. A formal plot need not always be put in to evaluate planting progress. Instead, checkers with experience can walk through an area while planting is underway. Daily walkthroughs are a good way to keep abreast of work progress. Walkthroughs also serve as a good forum to emphasize important site/species needs and to promote good communications with the contractors and planters.
Formal plots are put in for two reasons. First, formal plots are used as a monitoring function to further assess the ongoing quality of the planting, and second, they are used to check the planting quality for payment or contract adherence.
The sole purpose of the Planting Quality Inspection survey (P.Q.I.), whether done for monitoring or payment, is to measure on a standardized basis, the compliance of the stock storage and handling, as well as the planting, with the contract specifications.
This task is made easier if the desired results have been specified clearly in the original prescription, incorporated into the terms of the planting contract and communicated clearly in the field at the pre-work conference, documented in the Work Progress Plan, and demonstrated in the quality control at the early stages of the project.
The constant and timely monitoring of the planting contract is critical to its success. Generally, more time spent on the planting blocks conducting walk-through observations or establishing plots, the better the job will be and the closer it will come to meeting the prescription objectives. Also, problems that arise can be corrected sooner and questions can be answered or clarified. Some of the greatest risks to planting projects occur when contract clauses are interpreted differently. It is too late to correct misinterpretations when the payment plots are being tallied since very few planting or contract faults can be corrected after planting is complete.
All results of monitoring activities must be documented. Keep a diary for each contract by recording notes and having them initialled by the contract representative. They may be invaluable at a later date.
Monitoring plots can be used to check suspected areas, areas of new planters or areas where planting may be complicated because of prescription requirements. For more information about formal contract problems and notifications refer to the chapter on "Contracts," Section 4, "Implementation," in the Silviculture Manual.
Payment plots are completed when the planting contractor has released the unit or payment area as being completed and requests inspection of the work. The timing of release and who, as a representative of the contractor, has authority to release units for completion of the payment plots, are covered at the pre-work conference. The ministry standards for timing of payment plots after the contractor has notified of completion are outlined in Schedule A, clause 3.2 of the FS 767.
Other arrangements for completing the payment plots can be made at the pre-work if agreed to by the contractor and the ministry. There are circumstances where it is in the best interests of both parities to do the plots, for example, concurrently with planting on very small units or areas that are isolated or require specialized access. On areas with conditions like those above, problems can be detected and corrected with the minimum cost to the contractor and the ministry can better ensure the contract conditions are being met.
The following is a suggested list of tools and equipment needed to establish P.Q.I. plots. See Appendix 4 for a more complete listing.
The standard P.Q.I. plot is .005 hectare (50 square metres) with a radius of 3.99 metres. This plot size is ideal for most planting projects, however, occasion may arise when a larger plot is needed. When planting density is below 900 stems per hectare or when densities are highly variable due to the presence of acceptable naturals, a .01 hectare (100 square metres) plot with a 5.64 metre radius must be used.
The level of statistical error recommended for P.Q.I. surveys is 10 per cent or less for trees planted, and five per cent or less for planting quality. These statistics can be calculated easily using a calculator with statistics capability. The desired statistical level can often be achieved by establishing a plot density of one .005 hectare (50 square metres) plot per hectare.
In situations where planting units are small (less than 20 ha), or where sites are extremely variable, a higher density will be required. When calculating payment, a minimum of 20 .005 ha (50 square metres) plots is required. Where .01 (100 square metres) plots are to be used, the minimum is 15 plots. Under some circumstances of high variability in tree counts, up to four .005 ha (50 square metres) plots per hectare or two .01 ha (100 square metres) plots per hectare may be required to achieve the standard error. Where there are several very small units, it is advisable to reduce the statistical error by calculating the payment as if they were one unit.
High Statistical Errors (Plot Variability; Unaccounted Trees)
Where the above limits on plot density have been met and the statistical error is still excessive, the acceptable procedure is to calculate payment based on the quality percentage as if the error was in the normal range. However, under these circumstances, caution must be exercised in penalizing for missing trees when they have been identified through statistical calculation alone. Before calculating a penalty for missing trees when the statistical error is greater than 10 per cent, the area and trees issued data should be checked and/or additional plots should be installed and surveyed. If the statistical error is still above 10 per cent, the amount of the error should be allowed as the acceptable difference between the number of trees planted and the number issued prior to initiating a penalty for unaccounted trees. When additional evidence of stashing or disposing of trees exists, the penalty should be calculated using the standard 10 per cent tolerance regardless of the statistical error calculation.
Pre-locating plots on a map of the area is the best way to ensure even coverage of the planting site. It is most important that the entire area be sampled evenly to avoid biasing the results of the survey. This includes areas near timber edges, roadsides, slash or brush areas, and all other areas not specifically excluded from the planting unit.
The plots are used to tally two types of information:
If the entire planting unit is not covered uniformly, the estimate of trees planted will be biased (usually too high).
The easiest method for establishing plot layout is to select a point (P.O.C.), such as a landing, timber edge or creek crossing, and lay out a grid, beginning at the selected point, made up of parallel compass lines that systematically crisscross the area. Determine the number of plots needed (see "7.7, Intensity") and space them evenly along the grid lines. Usually a distance of 100 metres between lines and plots on each line results in the desired total number of plots. Although this system is recommended, other methods of predetermining plot locations and evenly covering the area are acceptable. If there is going to be a different method used than the standard grid system this should be discussed and agreed upon at the pre-work conference.
Note that some methods of locating payment plots are not acceptable. These include, among others, locating plots behind each planter, walking randomly across an area locating plots at will, or varying the density depending on the results (more or fewer plots in poor areas). Results from any such survey are not reliable or supportable. These techniques are biased and do not conform to the rules of random sampling upon which the mathematical theory of statistics is based and may invalidate survey results.
The procedures for establishing and checking planting quality are the same for both the monitoring plots as well as the payment plots. It is extremely important that the same standards be used for both plots. However, for monitoring plots, the use of a grid to locate the plots centres is not required. For payment plots, once the plot locations have been determined and sufficient planting area is completed, and a request for inspection received from the contractor, the administrator may start this type of P.Q.I. survey.
Consistency is the key to establishing a high caliber plot. To be sure that your results will represent a fair and accurate assessment of the quality of planting your survey methodology must always be the same. Diary notes are very important as these will form the basis of providing feedback to the contractor when explaining the quality results from either monitoring or payment plots. Start your plot the same way each time. The following methodology provides a logical sequence for plot establishment. For more information on plot methodology refer to the booklet entitled Planting Quality Inspection: Guide to Completing the FS 704.
Locating Plot Centre
Following the compass bearing from the plot layout plan, measure or pace to the first plot. When the proper distance is reached, drive in the plot stake at that exact spot. Do not move the plot centre from that spot as this will bias the result. It is improper to move the plot in order to tally planted trees. Any plot location within the defined boundary of the planting unit (unless the area has been specifically excluded from the contract), may be sampled regardless of the number of plantable spots, terrain, or naturals that the plot may happen to contain.
Once the centre stake is located, attach the end of the plot card to it and sweep out the proper radius for the size of plot required (3.99 m or 5.64 m). The inspector uses the flags to locate each planted tree and acceptable natural as he works around the plot. It is also a good idea to mark the location of trees immediately outside the plot boundary with a third colour of flag. Inspectors often check each tree for planting faults as they pass. Once all trees are marked, the plot assessment can begin.
In assessing the plot the inspector performs three functions. First, the number of trees planted is checked against the number of microsites available. Then, each tree is checked to see if it has been planted on the best microsites available within the spacing limits included in the contract. Finally, each tree is checked to ensure that it has been properly planted. The inspector then records the results on the FS 704. The definitions and specifications needed for these decisions must be stated in the contract or made clear at the pre-work conference. Contractor, planter, and inspector must all have a clear understanding of what is expected for the project to be successful. This includes the stated contract and minimum spacing distances, the minimum overall density, description of acceptable naturals, definition of an acceptable plantable microsite, and description of what constitutes an acceptably planted tree. Each of these can vary with stock type, species, and site conditions.
A plantable spot is an acceptable microsite best suited for seedling survival and growth and which meets spacing criteria. Spacing limitations are included in contracts to prevent uneven distribution, or clumpiness, in the new forest. These adverse conditions would affect tree size, uniformity and merchantable volume. Perfectly spaced trees are desirable but this is neither realistic nor would it allow planters to take advantage of the best microsites available. The spacing latitude is designed to allow a site specific "trade off" between the best spacing and the best microsites (see "Inter-tree Spacing" in "2.6, Planting Density," "Project Planning and Prescription Development").
Missed Plantable Spots
Occasionally a planter will miss a good plantable spot. This occurs when there is a good microsite left unplanted that is greater than or equal to the contract spacing distance to its nearest neighbor(s). The inspector includes this missed spot in his tally of plantable spots for the plot.
The inspector should begin looking for missed plantable spots when beginning work on the plot. To meet the above definition, these spaces generally will be large obvious "holes" in the planting. The plot boundary is of course ignored when deciding on missed spots but the missed spot must obviously be located inside the plot to be included in the plantable spot count.
Besides the obvious missed spots, the inspector must also look for missed spots near areas where trees are planted on unacceptable microsites. These may be trees planted on unacceptable microsites or trees labelled as "too close." Trees not on acceptable microsites are ignored when plantable spots are counted.
When flagging the trees in the plot, the inspector should watch for obvious spacing errors between trees within the plot or between a tree inside and one outside the plot boundary. Trees outside the plot boundary must be considered as the location of the plot boundary will not change the classification of trees being sampled. The question becomes, if there are trees inside the plot too close to those outside the plot, which of the trees are at fault? (This is discussed later in this section.) If unsure the inspector may measure the inter-tree distances, but normally a ±10 cm estimate is close enough. The object is to maintain a control on clumpiness and overall density. Within the confines of the spacing limits of the contract full credit for the planters efforts for selecting the best microsite must be acknowledged in the quality checking process. Microsite selection will have a greater effect on the size and quality of the final crop trees than strict adherence to exact initial spacing between trees.
When a tree is planted within the minimum spacing distance to a neighboring planted or acceptable natural tree, it is called "too close" and is considered to be located in a non-plantable spot. This occurs in one of two situations:
The first is when the "too close" tree is an extra tree squeezed in between two acceptably spaced trees. In this case the spot where the "too close" tree is located is not included in the plantable spot count and it becomes an "excess" tree in calculations only if the total number of trees planted exceeds the calculated plantable spots for that plot (refer to `Planting Quality Inspection: Guide to Completing the FS 704' Payment Calculation).
The second situation is when an acceptable plantable spot was available but the planter planted the tree a short distance from its proper location and too close to a neighbor. Therefore, the "too close" tree is readily identified and, when this occurs, the tree is fault coded "too close" and is counted as a not-satisfactorily planted tree in the plot calculations.
In unclear situations the inspector can determine which case is appropriate by working backwards from the "too close" tree to see if a proper plantable spot exists within the spacing latitude, where the tree should have been planted. Such a spot must satisfy both the spacing and microsite requirements of the contract. If such a spot exists, the "too close" tree is a fault tree; if not, it is an excess tree.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine which of two trees (or several from a group too close) should be labelled as the "too close" tree(s). Often it does not matter as the result is the same, but if it does make a difference, the person conducting the survey should select the tree or trees that have least negative impact on the contractor's payment for labelling as the "too close" tree.
An exception to this is when the plot boundary passes between the two trees in question. In this case the P.Q.I. system rules state that unless it is obvious which tree is in error, the tree inside the plot will always be considered as the "too close" tree and counted accordingly in the plot calculations. For an example of this situation and more on close spacing refer to `Planting Quality Inspection: Guide to Completing the FS 704' booklet.
Planters may space trees widely, on occasion, to move past an obstacle or to compensate for trees planted at minimum spacing. However, when there is a regular occurrence of wide spacing so that the overall density of the plantation decreases significantly, then there is a serious risk of the area not conforming to the legal requirements of the SP after planting or not meeting prescribed spacings. When there is a group of two or more trees spaced wider than the contract spacing from themselves and all their neighbors, these trees are considered "too wide."
To determine if any trees are too wide, the inspector checks the area visually and if necessary measures to see if any trees inside, or immediately outside, the plot meet the above definition. The inspector must look outside the plot. The wide spacing of the trees must continue beyond the plot boundary to qualify as being "too wide." The spacing may return to normal beyond the plot boundary and therefore the plot would not be considered as "too wide." Missed plantable spots would be recorded if this was the case (refer to "Identifying Plantable Spots"). After determining that the "too wide" condition exists, the too wide trees are ignored in the plantable spot count and the inspector checks to see how many trees should have been planted, in place of the "too wide" trees, following a normal spacing pattern (i.e., choosing the best microsites between contract and minimum spacing). The result is the number of plantable spots recorded for the plot and is, of course, limited to the maximum allowed in the contract. In this way, acceptably spaced areas are unaffected while widely spaced areas will result in more plantable spots being tallied than trees planted.
Spacing concerns are the most controversial and first to be addressed in the planting quality plots, but they are not the most important. The microsite on which and the way in which each tree is planted has an effect on survival and growth, second only to the condition and quality of the seedling at the time of planting.
Each planted tree is closely inspected to ensure that it is undamaged and firmly planted in an acceptable microsite. At the start of a project an inspector should excavate all the trees in each plot. These sample trees are checked for root placement and potential damage to ensure an adequate job is being done below ground as well as above. If more than two planting faults are consistently recorded in each plot upon excavation, the inspector will continue to excavate all trees in the plot. Otherwise, excavation of a minimum of two trees in each plot is generally adequate to ensure that planting standards are maintained.
The specific factors that affect quality of planting will vary from site to site, and with species and stock type. They must be clearly specified at the start of each project. To help keep track of them, the P.Q.I. system groups planting faults into three categories:
When inspecting the trees for acceptability, keep in mind the following three factors:
This includes all handling damage that is clearly the fault of the planter. It may include broken, cut or torn roots, broken top, wasted or discarded trees (not obvious culls), more than one in a hole, or scarred stem often from careless tamping. This is only a partial list that the inspector should add to as needed if other damage to seedling faults have occurred.
This includes problems related to the choice of a planting spot and includes errors in selecting a good planting microsite. Errors include too close, too wide (only a warning, not a fault), overhead obstacles (must be outside of the drip line of overhead trees and not under logs or other obstacles), soil too shallow, too dry, too wet, and poor rooting medium (such as rotten wood). Others may be added as determined in the contract or at the pre-work conference according to specific site or planting requirements.
These are faults with the actual planting of the seedling. Improper planting is one of the largest causes of plantation failure. The contract may specify requirements such as screefing, scalping or shading, but others such as straight roots and air pockets apply to all planting projects. A partial list includes inadequate planting spot preparation, tree improperly positioned on a prepared spot, improper root placement, exposed roots, roots not straight, improper shading (if required), air pocket, too loose, too shallow, and unacceptable back fill (litter or snow).
It is important to indicate on the FS 704 plot card why a tree is being faulted by indicating the correct code from the back of the FS 704. Additional requirements maybe added to this as specified in the contract or at the pre-work conference.
This is not, however, a complete list and contract administrators may include other conditions necessary to achieve a thriving plantation in the contract or at the pre-work conference. If there are extra concerns regarding the planting site selection or site needs these must be identified and presented at the tendering stage. Any changes to the contract specifications done after the viewing should be avoided as usually they will impact on the contractors' costs and can result in increased project costs or amendments being necessary to the contract schedules.
The planted area can be viewed as a field of overlapping circles around each planted or acceptable natural trees. Each circle is actually two circles, an inner and an outer circle with a tree located at the centre. The outer circle represents the contract spacing distance as specified in the contract. The inner circle represents the minimum spacing distance as according to the spacing latitude allowed in the schedules. Although the outer circles overlap and completely cover the available plantable ground, no tree may be placed within the inner circle of another tree (i.e., within the minimum spacing distance). This is because each tree must have at least that much space in which to grow. Each tree should ideally be located at the edge of their neighbor's outer circle (i.e., at the contract spacing distance). If the distance between the trees becomes consistently wider, valuable growing space will be wasted and gaps may occur. If the distance becomes shorter, the overall density will increase and the plantation will become overstocked, causing earlier competition, higher spacing costs, and an initial waste of expensive seedlings and planting dollars. As well, you may run out of trees for the area.
These spacing restrictions mean that each tree "influences" the location of its neighbors. This influence links all the trees together so that it is difficult to move one tree without adjusting the locations of many others.
For this reason planting quality inspectors must be careful to assess the planted trees as the planter located them and decide if they are acceptable within the terms of the contract.
Trees planted outside the plot boundaries will also influence the number of plantable spots available inside the plot itself. A tree or acceptable natural will have an `influence' of up to its contract spacing within the plot area if it is located directly adjacent to the plot boundary. This may result in a reduction in the number of spots available to be assessed on the FS 704 plot.
List of Planting Quality Faults and Damage Codes
Excess Versus Planting Faults
The question of when to call a tree excess or a planting fault is sometimes a confusing issue in tallying the results from a plot. The following points present a simple routine to be used when assessing a plot:
An acceptable natural tree is treated the same as any other reduction of the number of plantable spots.
A plantable spot may already be occupied by a natural tree of acceptable species, age and form. What constitutes an acceptable natural must be clearly described at the prescription stage and reinforced at the viewing and during the pre-work conference. All acceptable naturals must be given the same spacing considerations as a properly planted tree on an acceptable microsite. See "Spacing Rules" in "7.10, Assessing the Planting Quality Plot."
The various schedules that make up the planting contract contain general procedures for the resolution of planting quality concerns. For other procedures see the chapter on "Contracts," starting with the section on "Contracting Difficulties," and Chapter 5 of the Contract Administration Manual. The key to dealing with any contract difficulty is that the standards must have been expressed well within the contract and explained at the pre-work. This, coupled with good documentation and timely quality monitoring of the work, will reduce the number of potential issues that may arise. Contract difficulties will come up, but being prepared can make resolution a much easier and clearer process.
Record keeping and documentation are essential to the smooth running of the contract and are critical to the recording of site or prescription problems that might impact on the survival or performance of the plantation. There is, however, a specialized case where specific procedures should be followed in terms of contract administrator's actions and record keeping. If a situation arises where it is suspected that tree stashing or other serious contract violations that may result in the RCMP becoming involved have taken place, the following is recommended:
Note: In a case of suspected tree stashing, if accurate documentation has been kept for all stock signed out, irregularities will quickly become apparent when compared with Payment Certificate summary data.
The information on the quality of the planting is generally kept on the contract file with copies put on the opening file.
Refer to "High Statistical Errors (Plot Variability; Unaccounted Trees)" in "7.7, Intensity" for more information on procedures regarding charges for missing or unaccounted trees.
The planting project is typically broken down into project units that may include more than one payment unit. The requirements of the checking system dictate that, in all but the most extreme case, a minimum of 20 plots must be put into a payment unit. Small project units with similar prescriptions should be combined to form a larger payment unit. This will satisfy the statistical requirements and save time and expense in the administration of the contract.
The provision for progress payments on the planting project is laid out at the pre-work conference and is documented in the Work Progress Plan. For more information on contract payments and holdback requirements, refer to the section on "Managing" in the Contract Administration Manual, Chapter 5.
When all the project units are completed a final payment certificate is prepared. All remaining contract payments and adjustments will be included in the final payment to the contractor. For more information on final contract payments, refer to the section on "Managing" in the Contract Administration Manual, pages 34-37.
Release of Holdbacks/Security Deposits
There is a 10 per cent holdback on all payments made under a government contract. This holdback is held for 40 calendar days from final payment. It is automatically released after the 40-day period if there have been no third party claims or other contract adjustments.
The security deposit is released immediately after the contract has been successfully completed. For more information on the holdback and security deposit release, refer to the section on "Managing" in the Contract Administration Manual, pages 38-41.
Contract Completion Checklist
Most of the common items that should be checked prior to the completion of the planting contract can be broken down into two general sections:
Province of British Columbia