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Heh heh heh. Those crafty loggers. Always finding new ways to chop things down and take them away. What’s next? Underwater logging?

Well, yes. In October, the Naches, Wash.-based Underwater Timber Salvage Corporation requested a permit from the Idaho Department of Lands to remove 100 logs from Lake Coeur d’Alene and test them to determine how damaged the wood is before making the decision to mount a more extensive harvesting operation.

Sound like a strange commingling of Paul Bunyan and Jules Verne? According to a December 11 article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review similar logging operations have in recent years retrieved substantial submerged caches of giant mahogany in Brazil, cedar in British Columbia and western larch in Lake Pend Oreille. What’s more, ventures like Underwater Timber Salvage, credited by company officials for recently retrieving 40 million board feet of timber from Buttle Lake on Vancouver Island, BC, have also been praised for their efforts to use trees that have already been cut.

At issue in any potential logging operation on Lake Coeur d’Alene, however, are the more than 75 million tons of zinc- and lead-laden mud washed down into the lake by more than a century of mining. Tests conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1990 showed elevated levels of these metals in the lake, and a USGS official told the \Spokesman-Review that samples taken in the proposed salvage areas showed lead and zinc levels between 55 and 75 times greater than those in similar samples taken from uncontaminated sediment in other parts of the lake.

Critics of the salvage plan, including Mayor Clay Larkin of nearby Post Falls, say that removing logs from the lakebed will stir up the metals, now largely stable, and send them down the Spokane River. Company officials, on the other hand, say they plan to monitor water clarity during the test removal, and that a company lab analysis of the sediment showed that 95 to 97 percent of any disturbed sediment would settle after one hour. After 72 hours, reports claim, water clarity should improve to 99 percent.

It’s not the first time a salvage logging operation has been mounted on the lake, either. In 1985, a company called Northwest Log Salvage Inc. removed 55,000 board feet from the waters near Harrison. State officials say they are unable to find any indication that sediment movement was tested at that time.

Underwater logging operations focus their recovery efforts near the sites of historic log booms, where cut logs falling from barges would eventually become waterlogged and sink. Although the submerged logs might have too many defects to make a larger-scale salvage profitable, Underwater Timber Salvage officials are hoping that the deep-yellow to purplish patina of the wood will fetch a high price from buyers who will use it for, among other things, antique flooring. Even if some sediment washes up on shore, says the company president, it “would be safe for kids.”

Yours can go first, then.

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