I read with interest and approval the story on the sale of former Maryland state senator James Clark's farmland to the state {Howard County Weekly, Jan. 7}. This program is a valuable and useful way to maintain some of the rural character of western Howard County. However, it is the only such program Howard County has, and the likelihood of its failure deserved to be mentioned.

What can be done? First, active involvement by County Executive Elizabeth Bobo is needed. Her ambiguous statements of support and concern are of little use to a program that has serious problems. Pressure for and costs of development are increasing, and the surrounding counties have specific and effective farmland preservation programs.

Second, if Howard County is not getting sufficient bids of farmland because of the 50-percent-of- market-value limitation, the rule should be changed. Purchase of development rights is essentially a financial proposition and should not be artificially limited.

Why should we do this at all? Because if nothing is done all of Howard County will become one big suburb, and the character and beauty of the county will have been lost for future generations. Furthermore, what will happen to the thousands of acres already enrolled in preservation districts? We bear responsibility to those who showed faith in the concept to follow it through to a meaningful conclusion.

Finally, environmental quality, wildlife habitats, etc., are much better protected on a properly managed farm or other open space than in miles of housing developments. Let's remember that additional population load, as Tom Horton explains so well in his book "Bay Country," adds inexorably to the processes that have so heavily damaged the Chesapeake Bay.

KENNETH HART Woodbine