Splitting Whiskers

Ted Williams is partly correct in pointing out the complexities of panther conservation in south Florida, and does so in his typically uncompromising fashion ["Going Catatonic," Incite, September-October]. However, as a 20-year veteran of the panther wars, it is clear to me that he did not do his homework on a number of issues.

It would be great to save every piece of forest, marsh, and prairie left in southwest Florida, but the fact is that there has been no evidence of permanent panther occupation along much of the I-75 corridor in Lee County for perhaps 60 years. Just because there are those who want panthers there does not mean that they can live there. If we want the panther as a resident, breeding component of central Lee County, it will take massive habitat restoration, removals of human infrastructure, and the curtailment of human activities. Our panther conservation dollars can and should be spent more wisely. Over the past two decades I have committed my research to finding out what is best for the panther in habitats that are under the stress of development. Williams challenges my approach with spurious attacks on my motives. I fault his attempt to replace a careful review of evidence with political innuendo.

David S. Maehr
Associate Professor
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY

Ted Williams responds: If panther habitat in Lee County is of dubious quality, why does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conduct Section 7 Endangered Species Act consultations there? I wrote nothing about Maehr's motives for assisting developers.


Fuel for the Fire

It seems odd that an organization whose purported mission is to "conserve and restore natural ecosystems" would so deliberately malign one of the best tools we have to reduce air pollution in this country—ethanol.

Ted Williams's "Drunk on Ethanol" [Incite, July-August] contains numerous factual errors concerning the fuel's benefits. The assertion that "ethanol dirties the air more than it cleans it" is simply false. The use of ethanol-blended fuels reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by 12 percent to 19 percent compared with conventional gasoline, according to the Argonne National Laboratory. Williams also mistakenly argues ethanol pollutes water, when in fact it rapidly degrades in groundwater and soil, unlike MTBE. Contrary to "vast plantings," the amount of acreage seeded to corn today is significantly less than 50 years ago; herbicide and pesticide use also continues to decline. In actuality, most byproducts generated in creating ethanol are integrated into high-value livestock feed. And lastly, without ethanol, gasoline prices would be up to 30 cents per gallon higher.

That the article would cite David Pimentel, an entomologist, indicates Williams's intent to unfairly slant the story from the beginning. Pimentel's grossly outdated data on the energy efficiency of ethanol have repeatedly been discredited by well-regarded academics and economists. Your readers deserve to know the truth. Ethanol is an environmentally sound fuel source.

Dee Vaughan
President, National Corn
Growers Association
Dumas, TX

Ted Williams responds: Ignoring pollution created by fossil fuels that produce ethanol clears up nothing, least of all air and water. Production of ethanol-spiked gasoline increases greenhouse emissions by at least 29 percent. The production of corn itself creates more soil erosion and requires more pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers than any other U.S. crop. The sewagelike effluent produced by the fermentation/ distillation process is not among the waste products that go into animal feeds. Apologists for ethanol claim savings at the gas pump by ignoring tax subsidies and "producer incentives." Finally, David Pimentel is certainly more qualified to speak on energy issues than, say, the corn lobby. The U.S. Secretary of Energy asked him to chair two scientific panels dealing with ethanol production, and his reports were approved by 26 of the nation's top scientists. He has served on National Academy of Sciences panels dealing with energy use in agriculture, and all of his papers on ethanol have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.


On the Prowl

Susan McGrath's article on the Cockscomb Wildlife Basin is top-notch ["Top Cat," July-August]. Not only does she beckon a visit to this extraordinary place, she tells how successful efforts to save the jaguar have provided a better life for the local people through sustainable ecotourism. We had the pleasure of experiencing the wonders of the sanctuary firsthand last June and were enthralled. It's a great place to see birds as well as a rare opportunity to see (or, more likely, hear) jaguars in their native habitat.

Jim Wittenberger and Laura Fellows
Tucson, AZ


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