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COLUMBIA FALLS - Managers at the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. said Tuesday they plan to temporarily shut down the company's Columbia Falls sawmill amid a national housing slump.

The closure, which will begin Feb. 2 and last at least six weeks, is expected to put about 50 employees out of work.

Plant accountant Jeff Clausen said "the folks on the tail end of the operation" - the planers, kiln staff and shippers - would continue to work through the last of the inventory. Loggers also will remain employed, building a supply until the mill reopens.

"It's kind of a delicate balancing act," Clausen said, made all the more complicated by market uncertainties. "Unfortunately, our crystal ball isn't very enlightening right now."

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General Manager Chuck Roady said he will retain as many employees as possible at the Stoltze mill, and the company will continue to offer benefits during the shutdown, including health insurance.

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