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National forest logging suspended by shutdown

Federal budget troubles spilled into the woods this week, with logging contractors receiving notices to stop harvesting timber on national forests.

The shutdown halted about six timber sales that Vaagen Brothers Lumber Co. had purchased on the Colville National Forest, and it could trigger future work furloughs at the company’s two sawmills in northeast Washington, said Russ Vaagen, the firm’s vice president.

Vaagen Brothers gets about 30 to 40 percent of its logs from the Forest Service, which makes the company’s sawmills among the region’s most dependent on federal timber, Vaagen said. The company employs about 250 people in Colville and Usk.

The shutdown also comes during the period when mills start stockpiling logs, with the goal of having an eight- to 10-week supply by the end of February, Vaagen said. The extra inventory allows the mills to continue operations during spring breakup.

If the shutdown continues, “we’ll start depleting our inventory and we’ll never catch up,” which would lead to furloughs in the spring, Vaagen said.

Industry officials were caught off guard by the decision to suspend logging on national forests, said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, which represents 60 companies that depend on public timber harvests.

Federal timber harvests continued during previous government shutdowns, including the one in 1995, he said.

“Now the Forest Service has issued a blanket policy that they want to have all projects cleaned up and put to bed within seven days,” Partin said. “It came very quickly. It’s a very short timeline that could and will impact a lot of companies.”

Partin said that should the shutdown continue, his members will be looking into the possibility of filing breach of contract lawsuits against the government.

Companies with contracts on 150 national forests were alerted in writing this week that timber sales and stewardship contracts would be suspended.

“We regret the continued impact on the American public; however, we must cease activities that require Forest Service oversight and management during the funding lapse,” agency spokesman Leo Kay told the Associated Press.

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