Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cost of Tree Tubes: Compared to What?

This past Sunday's Dilbert comic strip was very funny, and it reminded me of conversations I used to have with foresters about the cost of tree tubes

The pointy haired boss (who hasn't had one of those?) says, "I can't sign off on this plan. It's too expensive."  To which Dilbert's colleague asks him, "You heard me say that doing nothing will end up costing twice as much, right?"  To which the boss says, "Yes."

The colleague continues, "And you understand that this is your only alternative?"  At this point the boss leaves and asks Dilbert to explain things to his colleague. 

Dilbert says: "My boss doesn't understand that costs should be compared to alternatives."

Foresters used to routinely tell me that treeshelters were too expensive.  The question they never answers was, "Compared to what?"  There are really only two things to which you can legitimately compare the cost of tree tubes.

First, you can compare the cost of tree tubes to simply buying trees and planting them.  In other words, you can compare to failure - and that's mostly what foresters were comparing to.  But the cost of failure is a lot higher than foresters used to account for.  It's not just the cost of seedlings and planting - and then doing it over and over again.  It's the cost of repeated site prep. It's the lost time - time that you could have sent doing something else, and the added time it will take to reach your planting goal.  Failure definitely costs a lot more than tree tubes.

Second, you can consider everything you would have to do to have a successful tree planting project without tree tubes, and then compare the cost of tree tubes to that.  Without tree tubes,

1)  You'd have to provide another form of browse protection - wire cages, fencing, or repeated treatments with deer repellent

2) Your trees would still be vulnerable to moisture stress and seasonal droughts, either requiring watering or significant seedling mortality/replacement

3) Weed control takes ten times longer without tree tubes - with most of that added time being simply finding your trees amidst the grass and brush, and the other time spent protecting the seedlings from herbicide spray while you treat the grass.  The added time for weed control combined with the fact that most landowners have limited time to devote to maintaining their planting means that weed control is more likely not to get done without tree tubes... resulting in lower survival rates, more replanting, more lost time, etc.

I'm probably "preaching to the choir" here.  In that last 5 years I have seen a major shift in thinking.  I honestly can't remember the last time someone told me that tree tubes were too expensive.  So many more landowners just "get it" and understand that compared to what you'd have to do to grow trees without tree tubes, the tree tubes are a bargain.  And as for failure... for today's landowner failure is simply not an option.

This Dilbert comic tickled me because it took me back to the "bad old days" when hardwood planting failure was the rule rather than the exception, and perfectly encapsulated the discussions I had all too many times.

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