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West Fraser Timber shutters Fraser Lake sawmill, 175 B.C. jobs lost

Lack of fibre citied in decision to permanently close town’s largest employer
With timber supply declining from now to 2030, B.C.’s forest industry is in a major transition. (Black Press Media)

Fraser Lake’s largest employer is closing.

The sawmill owned by West Fraser Timber Co. announced on Monday afternoon that it was permanently shutting down operations.

“Today’s decision is the result of West Fraser’s inability to access economically viable fibre in the region,” said company president and CEO Sean McLaren.

“The closure of Fraser Lake Sawmill will impact approximately 175 employees,” according to the company. West Fraser expects to mitigate the impact on affected employees by providing work opportunities at other West Fraser operations.

“We do not make these decisions lightly”, said Sean McLaren, President & CEO, West Fraser. “We know this announcement has a significant impact on our employees, their families, our suppliers and the local community, who all rely on a healthy forest industry.”

The Vancouver-based company has a large centre of operations still in its founding city of Quesnel. That’s were Keith Carter is based, West Fraser’s senior vice-president Western Canada.

“This is a difficult announcement for West Fraser as we have worked hard for many years to keep this mill in operation,” said Carter. “In July 2019, we moved the mill from three to two shifts per day, and then in October 2022, we moved to one shift. Unfortunately, we’ve reached the stages where we are not able to access enough economically viable fibre to keep the mill running for a single shift.”

The mill closure will reduce West Fraser’s Canadian lumber capacity by approximately 160-million board-feet.

“Today’s announcement, combined with our recent decision to indefinitely curtail operations at Huttig, Arkansas and close our sawmill in Maxville, Florida better align our capacity with demand and available sources of economic fibre,” said McLaren. “We believe these initiatives, along with the decision to divest three pulp assets and acquire Spray Lake Sawmills in 2023 make West Fraser stronger through the cycle.”

McLaren said West Fraser anticipates “recording restructuring and impairment charges of approximately $81-million in the fourth quarter of 2023 related to facility closures and curtailments due to availability of economic fibre sources in British Columbia.”

What comes next for the sawmill at Fraser Lake would be what McLaren called “an orderly wind-down.” Contacts in Fraser Lake confirmed the closure would be complete by May.

READ MORE: Quesnel pulp mill sold by West Fraser Timber

READ MORE: Another shutdown coming to Quesnel pulp mill