Judge orders immediate end to logging shutdown

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- A federal judge Thursday allowed loggers to go back to work on national forests without waiting for federal agencies to send out paperwork lifting logging bans prompted by the government shutdown.

Following a hearing in Medford, U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner signed a temporary restraining order lifting the logging ban immediately.

The timber industry had sued the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management, arguing that shutting down logging was not authorized by the Office and Management and Budget guidance to federal agencies on the shutdown, or the timber sale contracts themselves.

After Congress resumed funding the government, the Forest Service and BLM said they were lifting the logging ban, and would begin notifying timber purchasers. But timber companies did not want to wait, because rain or snow could shut them out of continuing to work at any time.

"Throughout the process we have argued with the government that the suspension orders were without merit," Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, said in a statement. "This ruling vindicates that position. The sad thing is that while government employees will earn back pay, there is little likelihood that logging or mil employees affected by the illegal suspensions will have any way to recoup their lost income."

The attorney for the government did not immediately respond to an email for comment.

Meanwhile, barricades were removed from the entrance to Crater Lake National Park, where about 70 employees were notified by telephone tree to return to work, said acting superintendent Scott Burch. Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Campground remained closed for the winter, but about 30 employees of the concessionaire were returning to work. A cafe was open at Rim Village, where most visitors get their first and only view of the nation's deepest and clearest lake. There was little snow, but the road around the lake was closed for the winter, due to icy patches.

National wildlife refuges were open for hunters, hikers and bird-watchers, though some special events might be delayed, said Robin West, northwest regional head of the refuges system for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Plans to start shooting barred owls in Northern California as part of a formal experiment to see if that will help restore healthy populations of northern spotted owls were not delayed by the shutdown, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Brent Lawrence. The experiment has been contracted out, and is expected to begin sometime this fall in Northern California and in fall 2014 in Oregon and Washington.