A lumber mill in St. Regis laid off nearly 90 employees late last week.
Executives at Tricon Timber announced that roughly half of the mill’s workforce was being laid off Sept. 25, citing the tumultuous American timber market.
Joe Zito, vice president of logistics for Tricon, said the layoffs were temporary.
“As soon as we can bring people back we will,” he said. “But right now it’s all market based.”
The layoffs are the latest blow to Mineral County, which has the fourth highest unemployment rate in Montana at 6.7 percent. Tricon Timber says it is the largest private employer in the county.
Opened in 1991, Tricon Timber primarily constructs stud framing lumber as well as softwood flooring and wainscot materials.
Zito said low lumber prices, the declining Chinese market and the looming expiration of the softwood lumber agreement between the U.S. and Canada all played key parts in the company’s decision.
The agreement, which keeps timber prices above a certain range for U.S. producers, is set to expire Oct. 12. The agreement had a six-to-nine-year time limit and was extended for two years in 2012. Since then, there has been little in the way of negotiations between the two countries to renew it.
“That’s driving the market. Everybody is holding off on orders to see what happens on Oct. 13,” Zito said.
With the U.S.-Canada trade agreement set to end, the market would likely be flooded with more Canadian lumber.
Julia Altemus, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association, said the state’s entire industry is struggling amid this situation.
She said the industry has laid off a total of 235 positions since March.
“People are just trying to do more with less,” Altemus said. “It’s a matter of economics.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.