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Bobbing For Logs

Ontario's Murray Jardine is finding treasure and government bureaucracy in submerged log

By Dave Lammers

Murray Jardine has been bobbing for logs and other relics in northwestern Ontario lakes most of his life. Now he wants to take his life-consuming hobby and turn it into a full-fledged, underwater timber recovery operation. The 62yearold, self acclaimed underwater treasure hunter from Dryden, Ontario says there is enough timber at the bottom of lakes to sustain sawmills and paper mills in the region for 10 years. He says much of the wood is preserved under water and has even become better with age. For the last two years, Jardine has been raising submerged logs, one at a time, left behind by previous generations of loggers who relied on waterways as their sole means of transporting timber. "It's incomprehensible and unbelievable the amount of logs that are out there," says Jardine. "Wood was moved over every lake, every stream, every river, every little body of water.

For a hundred years that wood was sinking and nobody knew about it." Considered a pioneer in underwater timber salvaging, Jardine says he made the remarkable discovery one summer as a teenager while diving for a car wreck off the Trans Canada Highway east of Thunder Bay. "When I dove down, I dove straight into a pile of logs," he recalls. "The whole lake was full." Originally from Manitoba, Jardine worked summers in northwestern Ontario. He has spent the last 20 years scouring hundreds of lakes for timber from Longlac, Ontario west to the Manitoba border. His research shows the last logs were floated in the region 20 years ago, with Kenora area waterways often the busiest. Jardine has raised only 20 cords of wood over two years, salvaging in the Dryden area on Wabigoon Lake, where he says the operation is still in the experimental stages and he spends much of his time performing tests.

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The wood he has pulled out of Wabigoon Lake he sold for 10 times the price of regular timber after cutting the logs into boards using his backyard sawmill. He sold most of the boards to US companies that require the antique, authentic looking lumber to repair heritage homes. Jardine has also amassed a collection of relics from lake bottoms-old tools, copper kettles and bottles-which adorn the inside and decorate the outside of his country home. Logs are also well preserved at the bottom of lakes where, Jardine says, silicates- a form of dissolved sand in the water-harden the wood fibres in 10 feet of water and deeper, and make the wood resin shine like fibreglass. "It makes a beautiful wood and a beautiful board," says Jardine. "The colours in it are fantastic." He probes lakes using a long pole and passes over shallow logs which, he says, are in a state of "anaerobic digestion". Bacteria eat the carbon out of the wood and leave the hydrogen, the main proponent of methane gas. He raises logs by poking them loose with a pole and releasing them from a vacuum pack at the bottom of the lake. "You can tell how fast it's rising from the bubbles," he says. "And all of a sudden, the log will break the surface, and it's just like a monster coming out of the water. These logs are so vast; you'd never believe there was timber so big growing out of this country.

Americans Interested In Waterlogged Logs

Another company with big plans for underwater timber harvesting in Canada is Ashland, Wisconsin based Superior Water Logged Lumber Inc. Already the biggest harvester of underwater timber in the world, the company's new Canadian division began salvaging timber from lakes in the Sault Ste Marie area a year ago. The company is planning to set up a sawmill for underwater timber in Ontario and hopes to eventually go province wide looking for wood, says Robert Cormier, president of R & B Cormier Inc, the forestry consultant representing the company in Ontario. Superior Water Logged Lumber of Canada Inc is the only private company licensed to perform timber scaling of underwater logs on behalf of the province's Ministry of Natural Resources. Last year, the company scaled half a million board feet of Crown wood at its scaling yard in Sault Ste Marie and purchased another half million board feet from out of province.

Cormier explains that the company recovers most of its timber through diving operations. Local commercial divers with full scuba gear are subcontracted by the company. Other diving firms that have obtained their own salvaging permits also supply the company with timber. In fact, underwater salvaging has become so popular in Ontario that the government now receives more than 70 applications for permits every year. Divers hook cables onto logs at the bottom of lakes and the logs are then floated to the surface with special, buoyant ropes and loaded directly onto a barge. The future could see remote computer controlled vehicles attaching ropes to logs. "One of the things that you can't do in Ontario is go in with a grapple on the end of big equipment," says Cormier. "You're going to disturb too much sediment. There are too many aquatic and aesthetic concerns." Cormier says obtaining underwater harvesting permits is still "an onerous, time consuming process." Permits for each lake are site specific. Applications include having divers perform a site scan and develop salvage site maps that are referenced with global positioning system (GPS) coordinates overlaid with side scan sonar. "We're basically using the tools that we use above water, and other technologies, to analyze the quality and volumes of wood underwater," says Cormier.

He adds that the underwater timber industry is experiencing "lots of growing pains" and that the process of obtaining permits from different levels of government needs to be streamlined. "Is it a money maker? I think the jury is still out on that," says Cormier. "Markets have to be found for all logs that are underwater, including pulp. It's labor-intensive but you're dealing with a very rare resource that commands a bit of a premium compared to traditional wood." Cormier says the company is committed to the long term. The plan is to secure as much underwater timber as possible from Wawa east to the Quebec border and eventually establish processing facilities in Ontario, Quebec and in the Maritimes. Their primary interest is in recovering hardwoods for which, Cormier says, there are a "myriad of markets" including use in high quality furniture and musical instruments. The parent company sawmill in Ashland, Wisconsin employs approximately 60 workers and includes dry kilns, remanufacturing and value-added facilities for underwater timber.

Four or five feet is nothing." A small crane is used to scoop smaller floating logs out of the water and into the hull of a 26foot, steel boat. Jardine attaches floating jugs to large logs and tows them in a straight line to shore where he uses a winch on land to pull logs onto a ramp to be piled. However, many logs require more than a little prodding to raise them to the surface. In those cases, Jardine and his two sons, Shawn and Kris, dive for the logs with snorkel and flippers, attaching ropes to pull up the logs. Jardine, who can hold his breath for about a minute, times his dives carefully so he can dive down, lasso a log and swim back to the surface. He recalls some chilly dives in northwestern Ontario lakes, which often remain frozen until mid-May and are still too cold for swimming by early September. There are numerous provincial and federal restrictions governing underwater harvesting of timber. Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has jurisdiction over shoreline issues and transportation.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) governs the protection of fish and other wildlife. Government restrictions prevent Jardine from logging on lakes until after July of each year, after fish spawning is completed, so that the operation doesn't disturb the natural habitat. He is also limited to raising one log at a time to minimize site disturbance to the lake bottom. He is also prohibited from dragging the logs along the shore. Underwater timber salvaging also falls under the jurisdiction of a variety of other government bodies including the federal Department of Labour, the Canadian Coast Guard, Parks Canada, the Department of Culture, Citizenship and Recreation, First Nations, and the Ministry of the Environment. Government restrictions haven't stopped Jardine from exploring lakes year round and, at least, imagining the possibility of a large-scale timber recovery operation. "When I'm not lifting logs, I'm probing around every different lake," he says. "It's to the point where my wife won't go fishing with me any more because I end up looking for logs." 

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Murray Jardine said he has received very little encouragement from governments, which he says are going thorough "a state of denial and disbelief" about the huge potential of underwater timber harvesting.

He is presently seeking federal permits that would allow him to haul up large piles of logs in areas of lakes where logs have accumulated. He explains sunken logs don't always stay still but will move with the current across a lake and even congregate like schools of fish. "It's like they're alive. You never know where you'll find them." To take advantage of the schooling habits of logs, Jardine has proposed that water logs be scooped off the lake bottom with normal logging equipment installed on a boat accompanied by a separate barge to load the logs. He says an extended boom with a wood clam could be used to dig down 30 feet in the water. "It just goes down in the water and grabs a big handful of wood and brings it up and sets it on the barge," he says. He estimates that he could harvest more than 50,000 cords a year from such underwater "mega piles." He adds that mass underwater harvesting would even work better during the winter-the equivalent of ice fishing-by cutting large holes in the ice and driving logging equipment and trucks onto the ice. "It would be like loading wood in the wood yard," he says. So far, he says it has been the approach of government to let sleeping logs lie.

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A small crane mounted on a 26foot steel boat is used to scoop smaller floating logs out of the water once they have been raised. The larger logs are towed to shore where a winch is used to pull them onto land.

DFO officials have stated that while timber is preserved well at the bottom of lakes, disturbing those logs could release methane and other toxins that could even infiltrate a municipality's water supply. For example, according to DFO, if a lake was once the site of a trapper's tannery there could be toxic tannins and other heavy metals settled at the bottom of the lake. However, Jardine has his own environmental concerns that methane from logs left underwater will mix with chlorinated water-discharged from municipalities-forming deadly chloroform.

He also says that changes in water pressure and temperature cause methane filled log cells to solidify into paraffin wax, known to block arteries. Finally though, he asserts that "every log you pull out of the water saves one big log on the surface." Jardine says he has received "very little encouragement" from governments which, he says, are going through "a state of denial and disbelief" about the potential of underwater timber harvesting. He adds that forest companies need to get over the embarrassment of losing boom logs at the bottom of lakes more than 100 years ago and get excited about what he calls the "log boom of the 21 st century."

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