by Scott McEwen, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
One hundred years ago the rivers draining to the Great Lakes were choked with timber harvested from the surrounding lands. Many of the saw logs of the day became water logged or escaped and settled into the shallows of the Great Lakes. It is at the bottom that many of the logs have remained for close to a hundred years.
Today, there are efforts afoot across the Great Lakes to harvest these forgotten giants. For many there is great romance associated with harvesting these submerged logs, a glimpse into the by gone era of logging and lumber barons. For others there is the potential for profits from the logs whose valuable size and tight grain texture is no longer found in timber today. Today, the two motivations have combined into a growing industry of submerged log removal.
Although salvage log removal is nothing new, the State of Michigan in the summer of 2000 passed two laws that would facilitate permitting of log removal from the bottom of the Great Lakes. These laws are being administered through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Land and Water Management Division (LWMD). As part of the permit review process the LWMD is required to determine whether the log salvage operations will have any adverse environmental impact.
From an ecological perspective there is reason to proceed cautiously. Many Great Lakes fish utilize submerged logs either as cover or as feeding areas. Additionally, most of the proposed salvage operations are at the mouths of rivers, areas important to the transfer of nutrients between the open waters of the Lakes and their watersheds. River mouths are often important staging areas for self-sustaining runs of spawning Chinook salmon in the summer and fall followed by Steelhead in the winter and well into spring. Lake trout are also known to congregate in areas around river mouths.
Due to the ecological sensitivity of many of the log salvage areas, prior to permit approval for submerged log removal, it is important that a complete environmental assessment is conducted. At a minimum the Watershed Council suggests:
Project Location and Description
On-site Habitat Assessment
Off-site Habitat Assessment