Cost-Effective Environmental Protection

Regarding the editorial ``Saving US Flora, Fauna,'' Jan. 4: After summarizing two House bills to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the author says that ``rescuing the national bird ... from imminent extinction was one outcome of the act that was universally appreciated.'' Strikingly, an analysis by the Endangered Species coalition of ``what might have been'' shows that while the version of the ESA by Rep. Gerry Studds (D) of Massachusetts also would have brought the American bald eagle back from the brink of extinction, their recovery under the other bill would have either failed altogether or taken much longer and cost more.

This second bill, introduced by Rep. Billy Tauzin (D) of Louisiana, would require two public hearings in each county containing endangered eagles. That would cost more than $10 million - funds which could be much better used to protect habitat. Under the guise of ``private property rights,'' landowners with known eagle nests could have cut down the trees legally when the eagles were away, whereas Mr. Studds's bill would protect roosting and nesting areas.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Mr. Tauzin's bill is that recovery plans prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service would have to be redrafted from scratch. Five of those eight plans pertain to sea turtles, which are now protected in Louisiana waters through mandatory turtle excluder devices installed on shrimp nets. Leaders of some Louisiana shrimping interests have insisted on casting this 12-year battle as turtles vs. shrimp, but the National Academy of Sciences found that the shrimp catch did not suffer from releasing baby sea turtles caught accidentally in the nets. Turtle-release costs represent only a fraction of annual operating costs.

We would be wise to aim for protecting the biological heritage of our planet with the most cost-effective proposal: the Gerry Studds bill. Kathryn Bricker, Bethesda, Md.

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