As we all know, in years past and even in some places today, logs were transported along rivers or across lakes to the mills-but not all made it to the saws. There is a small forest under the world's waterways, and some companies have spent years harvesting this waterlogged bounty.

You can often tell the age of a log by the end cut. According to the Forest Service, logs cut before 1885 were likely brought down with a broad axe-the bottom is V-shaped or cone-shaped. In later years, loggers switched to the two-man crosscut saw or whipsaw instead of axes, as they could load logs faster. That means that logs cut after the mid-1880s usually have a flat bottom instead of a V-shape.

Although I had known that turpentine from pine was an important industry in ages past, I didn't know that it could have a impact on our flooring of today. To collect the resin used to make turpentine, the surface of the tree was scraped, which often caused the tree to create even more resin-which makes these logs "resin soaked," so they are even harder and more durable.

Water-salvaged material is not automatically metal-free. Many logs have old spikes in them, or parts of chains and other material used to originally haul the logs around. Care has to be taken to remove the metal before sawing.

Logs that have spent decades underwater often display a myriad of unusual colors-not just blue stain, but a range of mineral stain can make this product range in shades of blue, black, purple and many other colors. Some material pulled from saltier water even shows green and yellow and reds.

William Joiner of Antique River Logs (www.antiqueriverlogs.com) was enthusiastic about the color changes, saying that "Preserved by deep, cold water, and a lack of oxygen and light, these logs are a marriage of water, wood, and minerals-and unlike new cut timber, which tends to be consistent in color, river-reclaimed logs have a unique color range and variety of characteristics."

On the other hand, Carol Goodwin of Goodwin Heart Pine (www.heartpine.com) said that their material comes from "pristine spring-fed rivers and therefore is not stained or discolored." Just as a northern oak will often have tighter grain than a southern cousin, or a cherry on one mountain's side will have more mineral streaks than another, this is another way water-salvaged material mirrors "normal" forestry-the trees reflect the conditions of their specific environment.

When you look at water-salvage, the first green aspects are fairly obvious: You're not cutting standing timber for your flooring. Also, you can be helping clear waterways-reducing hazards for boating or swimming and even cleaning up the water by reducing the rotting biomass.  

However, in my research for this blog, Carol pointed out that being green in recovering old logs is not just in the wood itself, but in how you do it. She told me that "in Florida, we worked with the Fish & Game and Water Management and EPA for over 20 years to develop an environmental permit process to ensure that everyone who pulls logs preserves the underwater habitat."

William echoed the idea. "Our goal is to leave no trace and do no harm to the rivers, which offer up these valuable natural resources," he said. "We are committed to researching and protecting the natural aquatic life forms. Our company actively participates with fish and game officials to understand and preserve the natural habitat. ARL was granted written permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to harvest logs that stipulates only certain areas and rivers in Kentucky to ensure the protection of streams that contain mussel beds and other aquatics which have a higher degree of conservation value."

He concluded: "Our approach to lifting these logs off the riverbed is to literally work on tiptoes, without using any heavy equipment or any dragging process as we engage each log."

When you think about it, logging underwater, conceptually, is much the same as logging on land. You need to find ways to keep your workers safe, do minimal damage to the surrounding area, and preserve habitat for wildlife. The most significant difference is that you're not going to be replanting on the riverbed!

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")