Super Soaker

John Flicker's Audubon View in the May issue, on the value of wetlands, hit the nail on the proverbial head. Even though some wetlands in South Dakota have been destroyed, many still remain—and thank God they do. Wetlands saved South Dakotans from disastrous flooding a decade ago, while states to our south, which were led to believe that concreting waterways would protect them from Mother Nature's wrath, suffered deleterious human and property losses. A lot of doubters back then are now steadfast supporters of wetlands as nature's shield.

Jerry Stanford,
Sioux Falls, SD



I would like to thank Ted Williams for presenting a sobering view of the ethanol industry ["Drunk on Ethanol," Incite, July-August]. Most of the information we see in the mainstream media and in political debate has been supplied by the industry. And most people appear to accept industry's promotion of ethanol as an environmentally friendly product that will help make our nation energy-independent and bring prosperity to the Farm Belt.

Because producing a gallon of ethanol costs much more than producing a gallon of gasoline, it is impossible for ethanol to compete in the marketplace without substantial subsidies. Taxpayers should demand that no additional government subsidies be allocated to this industry and that no new federal mandates requiring the use of ethanol be passed until a truly independent, unbiased research organization answers two questions: Is there a net energy gain in the production of ethanol? Do the environmental benefits of burning gasoline blended with ethanol outweigh the environmental costs of producing it? Only then can intelligent debate regarding government support of this industry begin.

Rick Hoopes,
Lincoln, NE


Thank you for Ted Williams's excellent myth-busting piece on ethanol. Soon after it was published, a coalition of health and environmental groups—including the American Lung Association, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, among others—urged the Environmental Protection Agency to permit California to avoid forced use of ethanol and the related increase in pollution. Unfortunately, I wouldn't hold my breath. The National Corn Growers Association recently countered by giving the Bush administration a special "field of corn growers award" for continuing to demand that California burn corn-based fuel, reports Iowa's Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. "By doing so, corn growers said the 650-million-gallon ethanol market was preserved," the Courier states. "Iowa continues to build and open new ethanol plants, increasing the demand for corn."

Frank O'Dnnell,
Executive director
Clean Air Trust,
Bethesda, MD


Cheap Gas

The basic idea behind Dan Porras's chart in the July-August issue ["Record Gas Prices All Wet," Field Notes]—that gasoline costs far less per gallon than some other common liquids—is solid. But some of his figures seem way out of line. Take, for instance, the price he gives for Evian water: $21.19 per gallon. What did he do to come up with that—factor in the cost of a ticket to Paris? In my local supermarket, not exactly known for its dedication to discounts, Evian in one-liter bottles sells for the equivalent of $1.70 a quart, or $6.80 a gallon. Even if you buy the six-pack of 11.2-ounce bottles, it's only $2.14 a quart, or $8.56 a gallon.

Henry McNulty,
Cheshire, CT


Editor's response: We double-checked Mr. Porras's math and found his numbers computed correctly. Admittedly, prices vary from region to region, store to store, and quantity to quantity. His figures reflect prices in Manhattan—where 9 ounces of Evian can cost $1.49, or $21.19 per gallon.


Better Safe Than Sorry

When talking or writing about salmon ["A Taste for Conservation," May], it is very important to recognize the distinction between Atlantic and Pacific species. They, and the perils they face, are very different. In addition, prematurely easing up on conservation efforts on behalf of threatened species—such as Atlantic swordfish—when there appear to be "tenuous" recoveries is a major mistake. Look at what has happened with codfish and other north Atlantic groundfish.

Donal C. O'Brien Jr.
New Canaan, CT
Chairman, Atlantic Salmon Federation, U.S.
Chair Emeritus, Audubon

In "The Cauldron of Life" [True Nature, July-August] we incorrectly described a "key" species, the common mussel, as a "keystone" species. In the intertidal zone, that distinction belongs to the starfish. Biologists define a keystone species as a top predator whose absence has a dramatic effect on the biodiversity of an ecosystem.


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