MEDFORD, Ore. (CN) - The 16-day government shutdown was "devastating" to the timber and wood products industries, illegally stopping work on millions of acres at the cost of untold numbers of jobs, the industry claims in court.
Three businesses and the nonprofit American Forest Resource Council sued the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in Federal Court, two days before Congress, apparently, agreed to end the shutdown of the federal government.
During the shutdown, Uncle Sam illegally shut down timber sales and operations, and illegally refused to take public comment on rulemaking, at the cost of jobs and income that the 12-page federal lawsuit does not estimate.
With 190 million public acres in National Forests, and 264 million public acres administered by the BLM, the grinding halt to forest work was "devastating to plaintiffs and to the public as a whole," the complaint states.
Plaintiffs - Murphy Co., High Cascade, South Bay Timber, and the Forest Resource Council - claim the defendants misapplied the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits government agencies from spending money without an approved budget.
The Act does not require suspension of previously awarded federal contracts, so long as "'continued supervision or support ... is not critical to the contractor's ... continued performance during that period,'" the complaint states.
"The Forest Service and/or BLM supervision or support of harvest under previously approved operating plans is not critical or essential to plaintiffs' continued performance of their existing Forest Service and/or BLM timber sale contracts," according to the complaint.
The timber companies say logging operations are essential to protect human life and property.
"The Antideficiency Act also does not preclude Forest Service and BLM officers and employees from incurring a monetary obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund in certain excepted situations, including where the obligation relates to 'emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,'" according to the complaint.
The freeze without notice also violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
The plaintiffs sought an injunction and costs. There is no clear request for damages for lost profits, so it is unclear what trajectory the case may take now that the government has reopened.
The industry is represented by Michael E. Haglund with Haglund Kelley in Portland.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.