"Until the environmental costs of extraction are factored into the price, coal will continue to enjoy a hidden public subsidy."
--Stephen P. Kunz
About a week before I received your May-June issue and read the fine article by Ted Williams [Incite, "Mountain Madness"], Chief District Judge Charles Haden's ruling was overturned by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled that valley fills and mountaintop removal are matters for state, and not federal, courts to address. The good news, if there is any, is that the ruling did not decide that valley fills or mountaintop removals are legal. The bad news is that these practices will continue to flourish in West Virginia until a state court can address the issues. It is an abomination that mountaintop removal is allowed at all. Here in Pennsylvania, we suffer from a very different but likewise outrageous method of coal extraction: longwall mining. For more than 200 years coal has been mined underground in Pennsylvania by the room-and-pillar method, whereby enough coal is left in place (in the pillars) to support the mine roof and prevent its collapse. But longwall mining removes virtually all of the coal in a five- to six-foot seam. With no support, collapse is all but inevitable--causing earthquake-like damage on the surface that affects houses and other surface structures such as roads and utilities, and natural features such as ponds, streams, and wetlands. Until all of the environmental costs of extraction are factored into the market price, coal will continue to enjoy a hidden public subsidy that contributes to the fallacy that it represents a cheap and plentiful source of energy.
Stephen P. Kunz
"Dawn of a New Lawn" [Backyard, May-June] is very well written and timely, but certainly counterculture, at least here in the Midwest, where homeowners are building ever-bigger homes on ever-larger lots and mowing all the yard [that is] not covered with asphalt. Many communities have zoning regulations mandating how closely grass must be mowed. If a homeowner wishes to do otherwise, a landscaping plan must be submitted for approval to the local zoning commission. Not doing so invites legal penalties. Farmers mow large lawns, roadsides, waterways, and field edges, all of which devastates ground-nesting-bird habitats. Anyone who does not keep a well-groomed lawn is lazy, and definitely not a good neighbor. Andy Wasowski's article is right on, but turning culture around is not going to be easy: The mowing culture is deeply entrenched.
James O. Smith
Andy Wasowski's suggestion that we exchange turf grass for front gardens in our suburban housing tracts is point on. He praises both the aesthetic as well as practical advantages, which include a considerable savings in both water and energy. And then there's the beauty that comes from a well-designed front garden. He even mentions the benefits to wildlife, something not always noted in similar articles. However, his reference to a 19th-century landscape architect's preference for "a smooth, closely shaven surface of grass" sends the wrong signal. Contemporary landscape architects have been using xeriscaping methods for more than 30 years. [Xeriscaping uses plants that can survive on whatever rainfall the area gets naturally.] One of the greatest pleasures in my career has been the redesign of front yards into attractive native and sympathetic gardens.
Calling All Rocket Scientists
I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or get angry about Barry Estabrooks's story "Crossed Signals" [Field Notes, May-June]. Does he really approve of foisting yet another example of ridiculous legislation on the unsuspecting public? Are visitors to Yellowstone National Park to become criminals by carrying a receiver? One more inane law to address a simple problem that [existing] technology can solve! Remember when your garage-door opener used to open every garage door on your street? It doesn't anymore. Why not apply that small bit of rocket science to your track-or-poach scenario?
Lucille W. Robbins
I recently donated money to the Audubon Society because I believe the world is a better place when environmental organizations have the money they need to further their work. I noticed a subscription to Audubon was one of the benefits of membership. Quite frankly, I expected to receive a poorly designed newsletter about birds. I was floored when I received your beautifully designed magazine covering a wide range of environmental topics. The thoughtfulness, playfulness, and craftsmanship of the graphic design are exceptional and raised my image of the Audubon Society to a whole new level. I now consider the magazine the best part of my membership and look forward to soaking up the next beautiful issue.
There have been many articles published in Audubon that have educated and impressed me. But thank you, especially, for the March-April issue and the eloquence of Kathleen Dean Moore's "Amazing Grace" [Journal] and Ted Williams's "Golden Eagles for the Gods" [Incite]. Because of these and all your other fine writers, I am forced from complacency to commitment: Your "What You Can Do" boxes make it impossible not to act.
Mary Lou Nowak
What a worthless cover story and picture ["Suburban Renewal," May-June]. To give valuable space to a photographer who couldn't care less about knowing anything of the natural world--this isn't worthy of Audubon, or its readers. If your aim was to provoke examination of our immediate environment at home--and its preservation--this was a poor way to do it. I realize every article can't be about the great issues of the day, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but this was trivial trash. Shame on you!
It was exciting to see "suburban Renewal." I'm glad that somebody broke the mold of showing typical stocklike pictures in magazines. I think we are all tired of sunsets and running bears. What is so powerful about these images is that they spark the reader's imagination. Although the pictures are graphically simple, the feelings they convey are quite complex. I hope this is a sign of what is to come in future issues.
Ken Brunswick, featured in "Limberlost and Found" [May-June], has been awarded a National Wetlands Award.
© 2001 NASI
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