Hoedads: The Tool and the Cooperative

White Mountain Apache Arizona-105
U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Hoedads are wooden-handled, mattock-like hand tools used to plant bare-root trees by the thousands quickly and mainly used by experienced crews. They are designed for steep slopes, versus the dibble, a straight-bladed, metal-handled tool with a foot platform used to plant trees on flat ground.

When comparing the use of the dibble and the hoedad, a USFS study in the Western Gulf Region of the United State (2004) shows that neither method is superior to the other.

The study concluded that tree planting "survival, first- and second-year height, groundline diameter, first-year root weight, and first and second-year growth was found to be the same." The hoedad does speed up planting when used by an experienced user with a strong back.

The Hoedad Revolution

This hoedad tree planting tool inspired a name given to tree planting cooperatives of environmentalist tree planters who planted millions of tree seedlings from 1968 to 1994. During this period, new-generation tree planters used the hoedad exclusively on hundreds of thousands of regenerated forest acres.

The timber industry and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) provided both land and incentive monies during this period to encourage reforestation of cutover lands. It opened up opportunities for private contractors to enter the tree planting business. There was money to be made for someone who enjoyed the outdoors, was in good physical health and could plant 500 to 1000 trees per day on steep ground.

Both the hoedad tool and tool users called "hoedads" were of some influence on the forest practices of the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These spirited men and women managed to change the stereotypical male forest worker image. They questioned the practice of single-species reforestation and detested the wide use of herbicides and pesticides.

They did extensive lobbying at national and state levels for increased funds for reforestation and promotion of sustainable forestry practices.

Enter the Cooperative

In addition to tree planting, these "Hoedad" cooperatives did precommercial thinning, firefighting, trail building, technical forestry, forest construction, resource inventory, and other forest-related labor.

They grew in numbers working in every state west of the Rockies and Alaska and living in the most remote areas in the mountains of the West. They later traveled through the Eastern US to planting job sites where programs like the Forest Incentives Program (FIP) were paying private forest owners to reforest and manage according to multiple-use principles.

The most notable cooperative was based in Eugene, Oregon. Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative (HRC) was the largest of the co-ops, was established by a Peace Corp volunteer and thrived as a tree planting cooperative for over 30 years. These Independent tree planter contractors were able to make millions of dollars (and plant millions of trees) through these planter-owned cooperatives.

HRC disbanded in 1994, largely because of a dramatic decline on federal lands in reforestation and other timber harvest associated forestry work.

According to Roscoe Caron, a former tree planter and Hoedad president, HRC was also "instrumental in breaking the males-only ethic of forest work, questioning the wisdom of monoculture reforestation and challenging the liberal use of herbicides."

In celebration of the 30-year Hoedad reunion (in 2001), the Eugene Weekly and Lois Wadsworth compiled some of the most detailed information on Hoedads to date for the article Tree Planters: The Mighty Hoedads, Back for a 30-year Reunion, Recall Their Grand Experiment