Reservoir Logs: Timber industry turns to underwater crop

Source: Grist Magazine | Main Dish | 18 Aug 2005.

As the traditional logging industry deals with unsteady prices and the challenges of globalization, the value of a new crop is coming to light: trees hidden under reservoirs, long given up for lost.

While no exact count of these "rediscovered" forests — which are being logged primarily in North and South America, Russia, and Malaysia — seems to exist, one estimate puts it at about 200 million trees, a global supply worth about $40 billion. These watery woods have been preserved by cold water and protected from rot and insect infestation. The resulting high-quality timber is highly sought after, especially by craftspeople.

Barges and divers have long gone after both standing trees and abandoned, sunken logs, but now a new technology is upping the ante, allowing more submerged trees to be cut more quickly. Proponents — including those developing the new high-tech method — say underwater harvests could help the planet, since they "spare" healthy forests in favor of the dead. Others contend the waterlogged trees are a nonrenewable resource whose harvest will simply detract attention from issues on land. In British Columbia this summer, a logging company and a First Nation band are embarking on a partnership that highlights the complicated allure of this new-old industry.