I know we talked about In re Tortorelli, the case that debated whether submerged logs were a natural resource that belonged to the state of Washington, forever ago but it is actually one of my favorite cases because it relates to a similar hot button issue in Florida right now. I am originally from Florida and while I was an undergraduate at UF one of my friends was doing her senior thesis on dead-head logging in the northern rivers of Florida (primarily the St. Johns, Choctawhatchee, and even the Caloosahatchee Rivers). And a lot of the issues she discussed were very similar to the In re Tortorelli case.
Logging in Florida was most prominent about 150 years ago, and like Washington logging companies floated its logs down rivers- mostly Cypress and Pine. It is estimated that about 10% of logs sunk to the bottoms of the rivers. Now after 150 years the logs have become part of the ecosystems in northern Florida Rivers.
Similar to Tortorelli, the State of Florida has claimed all submerged logs (called dead-head logs) as state natural resources under the Submerged Lands Act. However, also similarly many people in Florida have felt over the state’s history that they have a right to the logs and have harvested them illegal. Because most dead-head logging in Florida is done in very remote areas of Florida (which do exist) there had been very little enforcement in protecting the underwater logs. It was not until the 1970’s when fishing groups protested that dead-head logging was substantially turning up the riverbeds and hurting the fish and marine ecosystems that the State officially made dead-head logging illegal and enforced it. However, dead-head logging in Florida did not stop, it just went underground. Now the state allows limited dead-head logging through purchase of expensive permits (although many logger go without- claiming they have a right to the logs), but the industry of dead-head logging has still remained intensely confidential. It does seem some loggers have slowly begun to come out with websites, so the secrecy of dead-head logging may be shifting.
It seems as though permits are now allowed because there is little quality evidence that actually proves dead head logging harms marine environments (I could not find anything on how much NEPA process the State had to go through). In my opinion I can’t see how there would not be a major effect. Fishing groups are still very against the logging, so the permits are very controversial (fishing is obviously one Florida’s largest industry).
Through my research in the last few days I have found that many other states are dealing with evolving views of dead-head logging. For instance, Georgia seems more open to dead-head logging, and its practice is directly regulated by “Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.” Maine seems to be another state with lots of dead-head logging. It seems there is no question anymore that submerged logs are considered a natural resource of the state.
Why all the fuss about dead-head wood? Because it is absolutely gorgeous and therefore very expensive. I guess wood that has been submerged as long as the wood in Florida has been have very rich colors and are actually more resistant to water and fire damage. I tried to find a good picture of finished dead-head wood but I couldn’t find anything that really shows off how pretty it is. My friend from undergrad had brochures on finished dead-head wood and they were just beautiful.
I would agree that dead-head logs should be covered under the Submerged Lands Act as natural resources. I also believe the Tortorelli courts use of the definition “anything supplied by nature” was valid. Dead-head Florida Cypress and Pine are not only from nature but they are an important part of my states history, and therefore should be protected as a unique natural resource. Also, since the logs are now imbedded into the marine landscape of Florida Rivers I think the State should have the ultimate authority to regulate them in order to properly protect Florida’s environment and wildlife.