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West Fraser sees earnings increase after closing B.C., U.S. mills

VANCOUVER, B.C. (From news reports) -- West Fraser Timber Co. says it earned $35 million US in its first quarter, up from a loss of $42 million US a year earlier.

The Vancouver-based company says sales totaled $1.63 billion US, unchanged from a year earlier. Earnings per diluted share were 42 cents US, compared with a loss of 52 cents during the same quarter last year.

West Fraser president and CEO Sean McLaren says the company is already seeing early financial benefits from the recent closures of some of its higher-cost lumber mills.

Earlier this year, West Fraser announced it was permanently closing a sawmill in Fraser Lake, B.C., shuttering another in Maxville, Fla., and indefinitely curtailing operations at its Huttig, Ark., sawmill.

The company said the decision to close down operations in Fraser Lake, roughly 140 kilometres west of Prince George, was due to an inability to access economically viable fibre in the region.

The job losses represent about one in 10 people in the community -- with an estimated 175 jobs disappearing in the village of approximately 965 people.

The community held emergency meetings ahead of the planned shutdown, set to take place in May, with many expressing fear about the future of the community.

Mayor Sarrah Storey has said while some are able to take retirement packages, the future for most residents remains unclear though she is hopeful other economic opportunities can be found.

West Fraser has said it will help employees who want to relocate to job sites in its other locations.

Earlier this month, West Fraser announced it and Mercer International Inc. were dissolving their joint venture in Cariboo Pulp and Paper, with West Fraser to be the sole owner and operator.

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