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Loggers of the deep.


Water is no stranger to loggers of the Pacific Northwest. For close to a century and a half, the mystical "moist element" of Greek mythology has drifted their timber, powered their mills, washed and peeled their logs, slaked their thirst, put out their fires-and streamed endlessly down their backs on rainy days.

But these days, no one in the Northwest timber industry goes into water more deeply than company literally logs the depths.

Seattle photographer Phillip Augustavo happened on Clearwater's operation during a recent visit to 10-mile-long Lake Cushman, which borders Olympic National Park-and wasn't quite sure what he was seeing.

A closer look over several visits revealed that Clearwater Marine was actually harvesting an underwater stand of western redcedar, hemlock, white fir, cottonwood, maple, and alder trees.

The company, believed to be the only one of its kind in these parts, was ingeniously lowering a specially designed underwater chainsaw-diesel-powered and hydraulically driven-as deep as 100 feet and cutting trees that had been submerged when a dam was built in 1929 for power production.

Explains Carl Burgin, owner of the operation, "We have cut a five-foot-diameter tree 100 feet deep in 32 seconds. We put a choker toward the top and keep the tension on so the tree's weight won't crimp the saw. It's been quite a challenge!"

The water, protecting the trees from decay-promoting oxygen, has preserved the timber so effectively that now, more than six decades later, much of it brings top dollar because of its healthy fiber, straight grain, and sawlog diameters to five feet-even though the bark falls off almost as soon as the trees are "landed."

With today's steadily diminishing old-growth timber supply, logs like these are in big demand. By the same token, you may see aqua-lung divers attaching cables to long-forgotten submerged logs in mill ponds next to sawmills and waterways around the Northwest.

Some of the Lake Cushman timber is 200 or more years old, but no one's complaining that Clearwater Marine is pillaging old-growth forests.

It just happens that a local utility company, Tacoma City Light, had to lower water behind the dam in order to construct a new spillway, exposing this prime and nearly perfectly preserved underwater stand.

Because the spillway will soon be completed, workboats and barges are scurrying about the lake in a race to finish their work. Soon Lake Cushman's waters will rise again, and a sparkling lake will glisten anew.
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Title Annotation:Industry
Author:McLean, Herbert E.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Decade of the tree.
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