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Underwater Logging Laws in Oregon

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If public law librarians had a motto, it might be:

We don’t make it easy, but we try to make it possible.

This underwater logging reference question came to us (the 3 Oregon county law librarians who answer email legal reference questions for L-net, the online Oregon Statewide Reference Service). My Lane County Law Librarian counterpart crafted a masterful response and I thought it would be worth posting (and it is edited to protect the innocent).

The question was about laws and regulations governing underwater logging, who has rights to logs, what kinds of permits are required, etc.

The response will also give you some idea of what public law librarians are up to (and against). Here’s an edited version of the answer provided to the library patron:

I am a librarian, not an attorney, and therefore can’t provide legal advice. I can provide some links for you to various online information resources. You will want to consult with an attorney about “permits” or ownership/property rights.

You asked several questions and the best answer to all of them is “it depends”. Underwater logging is not a common enterprise, although there is at least one company that handles this in Oregon; here is a link to an article about their operation, taken from the Native Forest Council news web site:
http://www.forestnet.com/timberwest/archives/Jan_Feb_06/harvesting_sunke…

This particular operator is apparently based in Oregon, but there was little information in this article about where or how he obtained permission to salvage old-growth timber from the Columbia River. However, the article does point out that sunken logs can be branded or labeled as the property of the company which originally logged them (then lost them when these sank on the way to a mill).

But there are other types of operations which “log” underwater, including several companies in Canada, some of which “harvest” submerged trees from lakes, etc. However, the most common type of underwater logging appears to be by companies that salvage sunken logs from rivers and public waterways. And this may mean that business owners that operate on rivers or even near state parks, etc., should consult with an attorney or with other underwater logging operators about state or local restrictions on operating a business on a public waterway. As for issues of found-log ownership, you should also speak with an attorney or state official about the difference between “salvage” and “find” as a matter of law and public policy.

The State of Oregon maintains a central web site for information on licensing and permits for types of businesses and activities. While this does not cover ALL possibilities, you might check this site out:

http://licenseinfo.oregon.gov/ (you can do keyword searching here, so “logging” and “rivers” would some terms you might consider. There is also a page which deals with “water-related projects.”

Also the Oregon Department of State Lands maintains a web site on “public ownership of submerged or submersible lands”, which you can find here:
http://www.oregon.gov/DSL/NAV/whoownsthewaterways.shtml

This department also has regulations about special uses for state-owned land; these can be found in the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) available online at the Secretary of State’s web site. Or you can link to these directly from the menu on the page noted above, by clicking on Regulations, then scrolling down the list of regulations to Division 82 and Division 125 (this means that these particular rules can be found in the OARs under chapter 141 then under the division # and a subpart.)

These may or may not be all of the regulations needed, since there may be other considerations involved, including environmental ones. However, these rules specifically mention that they are applicable to “removal of sunken logs, woody debris and abandoned pilings for their commercial value”. These also mention compensation, etc. due to the Department, and that these special uses may be subject to public auction or bid.

And since there may be environmental issues associated with salvaging logs from rivers or lakes (i.e., due to habitat issues, or surrounding industrial uses, or even just adjoining private lands), there may be some additional “permissions” or permits necessary.

The Department of Environmental Quality also maintains a web page which lists statutes and regulations on water quality issues in Oregon, You can find that here:
http://www.deq.state.or.us/regulations/statutes.htm

And while you’re researching this issue, don’t forget there are plenty of federal regulations and forest management practices in addition to state laws. Look for salvage laws and the law of finds. There are also a lot of blogs out there for the logging industry and these issues are discussed there too.

I don’t know if any of these sources will totally answer your questions, and frankly they are not really questions that can be answered with any specificity. If you are asking because of a business venture that you are considering, then you should consider doing more research on this yourself at a larger public law library, or even better, consult with an attorney who would be versed in environmental issues and in issues involving salvage. The Oregon State Bar maintains a lawyer referral service which you can find on their web site at:
http://www.osbar.org/public

And if this question was prompted by a recent History Channel program on underwater logging, there has been some public news follow-up information about that episode, involving a Washington State situation. Here is a link to the Seattle Times on line article on this particular case:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008857779_axmen14m.html

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2 responses to “Underwater Logging Laws in Oregon”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I've recently been interested in this as well (Due to Ax-Men, actually), bu I find it very interesting that they mentioned the legal action against S&S (who I call a very specific name whenever they come up on the episode…it's not a good term, if you get my drift.)

    It is curious that the logs are considered public property and such. I personally know of several locations where underwater logging would work wonderfully well. It obviously can be done, but as said, it may be hard.

    Thanks for the info.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Removing partially submerged “old growth” salvaged logs from river bottoms does little or no harm to the riparian ecosystem, as long as there are no large colonies of endangered plants or mussels attached to them, and they are not located in areas containing a high density of fish eggs, and the operation does not produce large plumes of silt. The method of removal should be limited to divers using small boat mounted winches that should only lift the logs vertically from the river or lake bottom, and should not drag the log along the stream bottom during the removal process. Also, a small “mill-buyers percentage fee” should be paid to the state if the logs came from a publicly owned river bottom. Every previously cut old growth log salvaged from a river bottom means that one less log needs to be cut from the present forest.

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