GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Western timber companies have gone to court to lift the logging ban on national forests due to the government shutdown, arguing the government has no authority under timber sale contracts to force loggers to stop working.
Three wood products companies and a timber industry association filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Medford against the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order lifting the logging shutdown, arguing direction from the Office of Management and Budget does not require suspension of operations on a federal contract so long as direct supervision is inessential to the contractor's work. It adds that some of the contracts involve work that is improving public safety by reducing wildfire danger and removing dead trees in danger of falling in campgrounds.
The companies also say the agencies failed to file notice of the shutdown and give the timber industry a chance to respond.
"It makes zero sense for the cash-strapped government to shut down operations that pay millions into the United States Treasury," said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resources Council, the timber industry group that filed the lawsuit. "A timber operation isn't something you can turn on and off like a light switch. Once equipment has to be moved out, it can be months before it can be moved back in.
"What is happening to our members is particularly frustrating when other businesses with contracts to operate on federal land, such as ski areas, are being allowed to continue working," Partin added in a statement
The Forest Service and BLM had no comment on the lawsuit.
The Forest Service started sending out notices to 450 timber buyers last week, saying they had to wrap up operations and put measures like erosion controls in place. The BLM, which sells timber only in Western Oregon, followed suit.
Though some companies depend heavily on federal timber sales for their logs, national forests produce only about 5 percent of the nation's lumber supply. Since logging was deeply cut back on national forests in the 1990s to protect fish, wildlife and clean water, markets have turned to other sources, such as Canada and private lands.
The timber companies that joined the lawsuit are Murphy Company of Eugene, which employs 600 people in six mills; High Cascade Inc. of Carson, Wash., which procures timber for a mill in Carson, Wash., and another in Hood River, Ore.; and South Bay Timber LLC, a California-based company that logs in Oregon.
Andy Stahl of the conservation group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics said the lawsuit had little chance of success in light of an Oct. 4 ruling in Colorado, where a judge refused to reverse the cancellation of a permit for a mountain bike race on BLM land prompted by the shutdown.