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Sawmill does its part to protect our fragile environment

By: Carol Feineman, News Messenger editor
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Calling the Sierra foothills home makes perfect sense to me. It must, since I made it my mission to move back here after a 14-month stint in the Bay Area. I kept dreaming of what I gave up for city life, which was the easily accessible and vibrant outdoor life. For me, the attraction to this area is that nothing beats being outside. That’s whether it’s hiking along the easily accessible creeks and trails or just standing outside my office near graceful elm trees. I need to be surrounded by nature; I want to hear birds when I walk; I want to see squirrels running around neighborhood parks. With Wednesday being national Earth Day, I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to live again in a rural environment. Mark Luster, the Sierra Pacific Industries community-relations manager, also appreciates the outdoors. During his free time, Luster skies all over the world, including France, Italy and Austria, and closer to home, Colorado and Lake Tahoe and Canada. If not skiing, Luster’s probably outdoors, either bicycling or hiking locally and around Lake Tahoe. When I was recently trying to outline an Earth Day column, I never imagined Sierra Pacific Industries and the holiday that promotes a strong awareness for a healthy, sustainable environment would go together. That was before Luster, who has worked at the lumber manufacturer for the last 23 years, gave News Messenger staff a three-hour tour of the Lincoln sawmill. Based out of Anderson, the family-owned lumber manufacturer has 13 mills in California and three mills in Washington. As Luster took us around the 240-acre work site off Highway 65 near downtown, I saw that Sierra Pacific Industries is actually very green minded. And so the Lincoln sawmill and Earth Day should be in the same column about protecting our fragile environment. Having 350 full-time employees, Sierra Pacific Industries is the largest private employer in Lincoln and one of the top-15 employers in the county. I’m glad being green is a priority of Lincoln’s largest business. “One-hundred percent of the raw material is used,” Luster said proudly. Wood is used in more than 5,000 everyday byproducts, Luster explained, from pencils, playground and livestock-bedding chips, Parmesan cheese, shampoo to household cleaners. And the raw material for “a ton” of these byproducts is produced at Lincoln’s sawmill. To me, that translates into being a very green business, especially when we live in such a disposable society (just check out the exorbitant wrapping most fast-food hamburgers and compact discs come in, for everyday examples). Also showing Sierra Pacific Industries philosophy is the company is 10 years into a 100-year-plan that ensures 63-percent more volume of timber on the company’s forestland, Luster pointed out. Sierra Pacific Industries, Luster said, plants seven trees for every tree harvested. “California has arguably the most stringent forest practice rules in the world. We protect wildlife, water quality, air quality and a number of forest resources and attributes,” Luster said. “California law only requires that we’re sustainable. But we go above that for the future.” And by burning bark and chip byproducts in-house, the local sawmill produces all the clean energy it needs to run seven days a week. The sawmill also produces extra power to be sold to PG&E. That power, according to Luster, is enough energy to fuel between 10,000 t o 13,000 homes. After listening to Luster, I was definitely impressed with Sierra Pacific Industries. Of course, he’s the community-relations manager who gets paid to talk up the company’s strengths. But others in Lincoln, such as the city’s economic and redevelopment manager Steve Art, are also impressed. “Sierra Pacific has been a community-based company for many years in Lincoln and their efforts to be good stewards of the planet shows they do care about sustainability,” Art said this week. “Their employees have helped build the economy of Lincoln by purchasing locally, living in the community and taking an active role in making us the type of community that others strive to become.” And I also noticed the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® stamp, which indicates through a third-party certification audit that the products are from well-managed forests, on lumber at the sawmill. According to the initiative’s Web site, only 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified. That’s a significant statistic. “My father worked in the forest-products industry in Foresthill for over 30 years. Growing up in this small forested community of 1,000 people taught me to appreciate the forest and the environment as well as the jobs that forest management provides,” Luster said. “I consider myself an environmentalist who understands the balance of jobs and the environment and, like my dad, I too am proud to be a part of this industry.” And I’m proud that Lincoln has a company so committed to the outdoors. Carol Feineman can be reached at 774-7972 or at carolf@goldcountrymedia.com