TimberTrader News spoke with Hydrowood owners SFM Environmental Solutions and their Forest (SFM) Operations Manager Darryn Crook about the company’s ambitious underwater venture.
Darryn discussed the project, how the concept came about, and what’s next for this underwater resource that was, for so long, forgotten.
LOST IN THE PAST
Many would remember the big push for hydropower across Australia in the 1970s and 80s, particularly in Tasmania. Dams were being created primarily for hydropower generation.
In Tasmania, the Lower Gordon dam and Lake Pedder dam were by far the biggest, amongst many others, that were located so remotely that many weren’t harvested prior to the flooding.
As a result, Tasmania now has large hydro dams and lakes with timber still underwater, sitting stagnant and perfectly preserved, just ready for the picking.
Seemingly frozen in time, specialty timbers including Huon Pine, Sassafras and Myrtle, as well as Eucalyptus and Blackwood, have lain dormant on some of the dam floors for many years.
Now, the timbers which were once thought to be all but lost, are set to be sustainably salvaged by SFM.
Darryn explained that the idea originally came to the SFM Directors after they were inspired at a timber trade show in Canada, where underwater harvesting was commonly showcased.
“One of our Directors also happens to be a commercial pilot, and he flies over the lakes quite a lot during his trips over Tasmania, and he joined the dots and thought ‘Well, they do it in Canada, why can’t we do it here?’,” he recalled.
Following consultations in 2012 with the lake and dam owners, Hydro Tasmania, as well as the State Government, it was agreed that SFM would investigate the prospect for recovering wood from the lake floor.
Soon enough, Hydrowood was born.
DAM, THAT’S GOOD TIMBER
Investigations and feasibility studies ensued, and it became clear very quickly that this product, located sometimes up to 50 meters underwater, was quite special.
Sample timber such as the Black Hearted Sassafras was taken out of the lake early in an effort to prove that the resources sitting at the bottom of the dam were worthy of the harvest.
The University of Tasmania’s School of Architecture hopped on board, with Associate Professor Greg Nolan overseeing a feasibility study of the timber alongside Tasmanian furniture designer Simon Ancher, who was one of the first to get a chance to work with the product.
Darryn explained that the early indicators that this product would be valuable became obvious during the study and from the designer feedback Simon provided them.
“We think this product will settle into the niche, craft market, because essentially this is timber that tells a story – and not to beat around the bush – but it’s an expensive product to harvest, at more than double the price of conventional harvesting,” Darryn added.