Tasmania’s hydro-electric schemes; constructed throughout the 20th century dragged the State’s economy into the industrial age. A result of the damming of the Gordon River and the flooding of Lake Pedder was the submersion of thousands of trees that are still sitting at the bottom of the frigid waters; but not for long.
A treasure lies beneath the frigid waters of Tasmania’s hydro system; thousands of trees that have remained submerged for thirty years. The Australian reports that two local entrepreneurs have mastered a means of harvesting the still-standing drowned forests from the bottom of hydro lakes. “There is relief, but pride is the overwhelming emotion,” said Andrew Morgan, an environmental consultant who developed Hydrowood with business partner David Wise. Specialty timbers including Huon Pine, Sassafras and Myrtle as well as Eucalyptus and Blackwood have laid dormant on the floor of the Pieman River on Tasmania’s West Coast since the 50 kilometre site was flooded in the 1970s.
The operation was allegedly dreamt up “over a few beers” and commercial harvesting commenced in 2015, supported by $2 million of private money and a $5 million federal grant aimed at assisting Tasmania’s struggling forestry industry. Andrew and David are looking at “achieving a premium for Hydrowood based on its remarkable provenance and the story of a resource wasted by one generation but resurrected by another.” Wasted may not be a fair word to use but it is a fact that World-wide there are an estimated 300 million trees submerged in dams constructed during the 1950s through to the 1970s from the creation of hydroelectric schemes and water storage. Often flooded with little salvage being undertaken, this forest resource worldwide is estimated to be worth up to $50 billion.
The initial “logging” operation is being carried out at western Tasmania’s Lake Pieman, created in 1986 by one of the last hydro dams in the State. A custom-built barge fitted with an excavator manoeuvres between the tops of dead trees that show up on a sonar image. A long arm ending in a clawed harvesting head reaches as deep as 26 metres and ‘feels’ for the tree where a chainsaw in the harvesting head cuts it free. The trunk is lifted to the surface, preserved due to low temperature and oxygen levels in the lake, as well as the protection from sunlight provided by the tannin-stained water.
The wood is mostly sold to makers of fine furniture and flooring in Victoria and Tasmania. Mr Morgan estimates the 2200ha Lake Pieman has enough to last 10 years. Hydrowood has obtained the right to harvest Lake Gordon, 10 times the size. Four other lakes have been surveyed and found to hold promise. “We can’t guarantee that we’ll be here for 100 years, but we might,” Mr Morgan said.