Thomas H. DeSabla ["Appreciating West Virginia as It Is," letters, Sept. 1] said that "not much grows" in West Virginia's "rocky soil."

Wrong.

West Virginia is home to the mixed mesophytic forest, the most biologically diverse temperate hardwood forest on Earth. Federal studies say it will take centuries for the forest to recover from mountaintop-removal coal mining, which is gobbling up huge swaths of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and parts of Tennessee and Virginia.

West Virginia is blessed with abundant fresh water, which, in the long run, will prove to be a far more important resource for our state -- and for the nation -- than coal. We have the highest regional concentration of aquatic biodiversity in the country. Coal companies have destroyed groundwater and buried or otherwise trashed more than 1,000 miles of Appalachia's streams under millions of tons of former mountaintops. These streams were crucial to the healthy functioning of downstream ecosystems.

Mountaintop removal probably accounts for only about 5 percent of the coal mined in the country. We could cut energy consumption by 20 percent using available conservation and energy-efficiency techniques. Studies show that alternative energy development also will create jobs. Mountaintop removal unravels the ecological balance of our region, and it must end -- not only for preserving the state's incredible beauty but because humans depend on healthy ecosystems too.

-- Vivian Stockman

Huntington, W.Va.

The writer is project coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental

Coalition.