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Heavenly ski resort to cut old growth trees for new lifts

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Heavenly ski resort to cut old growth trees for new lifts

Postby Kerstin » Sun Feb 18, 2007 6:04 pm

...and ski runs. They can be stopped. Here's a copy of an e-mail I received yesterday:



ACTION ALERT: HEAVENLY CHOOSES TO DESTROY OLD GROWTH TREES

Our efforts at compromise have failed. A stand of very old red firs is about to be destroyed at Lake Tahoe because Heavenly Mountain Resorts wants its skiers to get up the mountain 6 minutes faster. What an absurd trade-off! Sacrificing trees up to 500 years old, destroying wildlife habitat, increasing the risk of soil erosion and loss of Lake clarity, contributing to global warming by releasing the carbon bound up in the trees. And for what? Decreasing a ski lift ride from 13 minutes to 7. During that extra 6 minutes, people could be relaxing and enjoying some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.

21 minutes. We timed it. That's how long it takes to get to the top of North Bowl under the present lift configuration. Heavenly claims skiers won't put up with that. Perhaps they are right. (You might want to let TRPA know your thoughts on this.) There are 2 alternatives on the table that would reduce the time to about 13 minutes - Alternative 5 and Alternative 4A. But those are not good enough for Heavenly. They have chosen Alternative 4 which reduces the time on the lift to about 7 minutes. And in the process destroys the stand of old growth trees.

Please help us stop this madness.

E-mail the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), the Tahoe regulatory body that will decide on this issue on February 28th. Send comments to Jeanne McNamara, TRPA, jmcnamara@trpa.org The packet that goes to the TRPA Governing Board for the Feb 28th meeting will be finalized by Wednesday, Feb 21st, so please take a minute or 2 right now to e-mail them. Time is of the essence.
And please plan on attending the TRPA Governing meeting which will be at 128 Market Street, off lower Kingsbury Grade, sometime after 10:00 a.m. on the 28th. E-mail Jeanne (or me, donahoe@charter.net) a few days before the meeting to get a better sense of whether this issue will be heard in the morning or the afternoon.

Background:

TASC's (the Tahoe Area Sierra Club Group) 1st choice was Alternative 5, since it would have the least impact to the stand of old growth trees in the North Bowl woods. This alternative would replace existing lift lines rather than building a new lift through the heart of the stand. It also includes a ski run alternative that goes around the stand. This stand is located on a steep slope in the fragile Edgewood Creek watershed, which has been in the worst condition of any watershed at Heavenly. While there are signs of improvement in this watershed, major new impacts must be avoided.

Because Alternative 5 didn't meet all of Heavenly's needs, we worked with the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada Alliance and Heavenly Management to develop a compromise - Alternative 4A. This option features an angled-lift that would go around, rather than go through, the old growth stand in the North Bowl.

When we met with Heavenly Executives this last Monday, they rejected Alternative 4A as being too expensive. (It adds 10% to their capital improvement budget.), and Alternative 5 as taking too long and inconveniencing skiers.

Over one billion dollars of public and private money is being spent to restore Lake Tahoe. It is unconscionable that Heavenly undercut the efforts and sacrifices of others because they are not willing to pay the 6 million dollars needed to do the right thing here. (It should be noted that other Vail resorts have installed these kinked lifts. I guess they just don't consider Lake Tahoe that special.) And if money is truly the key point, then Alternative 5 should be Heavenly's choice.

Only a public outcry will save the trees. Please add your voice.
And after you e-mail TRPA insisting on Alternative 5 or 4A and that they not destroy the old growth stand of red firs, please, if you have time, also send a copy of your comments to the editor of your local paper.

For more information:

You may want to visit an as yet unofficial blog developed by the Sierra Nevada Alliance. http://northbowl.blogspot.com

Many, many thanks.

Michael Donahoe, Conservation Co-chair
Tahoe Area Sierra Club (TASC)

donahoe@charter.net




I hope I can interest some of you in e-mailing comments to the TRPA. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has the power to prevent Heavenly from cutting these trees.

What is not mentioned in the above e-mail is that many other types of old growth trees would be cut, such as Western White Pine and Lodgepole Pine. The majority of Monument Peak, where Heavenly ski resort is located, consists of original forest. The Comstock Lode loggers didn't make it up there to cut trees. However, the Forest Service definition (at least in this area) of an old growth tree is one at least 24 inches in diameter at chest height. What they are ignoring is that trees which grow in harsh high-altitude climates can be much smaller and still be very old. I'm sure many of you have seen trees like this. I'm also sure most of you are aware that old-growth forest is important habitat that is becoming rarer by the minute.

Heavenly plans to eventually cut many more ski runs through the spectacular groves of ancient, gnarled Western White and Lodgepole Pine that exist high on the mountain.

I'm especially keen on trying to stop Heavenly from adopting Alternative 4 not only because I think it's important to preserve old-growth habitat but because if they do choose Alternative 4 it will "get the ball rolling" on their plans to turn Monument Peak into a place resembling Disneyland. They have plans for a 2500-seat amphitheater at the top of the Gondola, several more lodges, and a zipline, in addition to the new ski runs and lifts.

The Tahoe Basin has only 5% of its original forest remaining. It doesn't seem the powers-that-be at Heavenly care about that.

Here's a link to Heavenly's environmental impact statement. It's a huge file to try to navigate through, but it contains a lot of information about their future plans.

http://www.trpa.org/default.aspx?tabindex=4&tabid=291

Thanks for listening, everyone.

Here's a photo I took of some League to Save Lake Tahoe members in the Red Fir grove mentioned in the above e-mail.

Image



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Postby SSSdave » Sun Feb 18, 2007 10:50 pm

Hello Kerstin,

That photo sure looks familliar as a place I've bounced through. I haven't skied at Heavenly for more than a decade because their lift ticket rates are always very expensive. However in the 80s used to ski there occasionally on fresh powder days so know the resort reasonably well including the boundary tree areas along the Olympic Downhill run that drops into North Bowl. I also used to be a member of the Sierra Club for many years until I just became tired of supporting an organization that turned a deaf ear to California overpopulation and regularly supported various local litiginous activities in urban areas I thought the club ought not be involved in. In particular I recall all the Squaw Valley legal lawsuits the Sierra Club dealt with that tried to block that ski area every time they tried to expand. There are those that are fine with reasonable expansion in and around already highly developed areas like ski areas and mountain communities of which Squaw Valley is. The Sierra Club has a policy of supporting local environmental activists to initiate various lawsuits dependent on how those local members wish to deal with such. Thus many club backed lawsuits occur that would have questionable regional or national support. The Squaw Valley lawsuits were generally seen as simply NIMBY monkeywrenching in the long traditional of alpine ski haters in the club. The US Forest Service and courts took that view also in the resorts favor though the delays were costly. The club backed a great cause in preventing the Disney plans at Mineral King decades before. However that seemed to intensify the division by often backcountry cross country skiing enthusiasts in the club and resort based skiing that fostered a mentality that lacked reasonably pragmatic approaches. From that perspective without knowing the details I have some doubts on the need to limit Heavenly on this also.

Certainly the whole southern area of Lake Tahoe shores were lost to much naturalness several decades ago. South Lake Tahoe has long been an urban city with continual real estate growth being the dominant force destroying the environmental quality of the region. That of course has been fueled by the monstrous gambling industry absolutely entrenched without hope long ago. I wonder why ought we make a big deal of cutting a few trees in the lift line of a new lift that is a tiny tiny percentage of the old growth trees in the region. Each decade fires, air quality like ozone levels, urban expansion, homebuilding, and beetle infestations are likely to effect magnitues greater numbers of trees. Well maybe it has to do with the fact Heavenly Ski Resort that is now owned by Vail Associates of Colorado, is mostly on US National Forest land just like Squaw Valley. An hence the club has legal leverage if it comes to that to effect the process in ways that would be impossible on all the other private or city areas. In the mean time Kerstin I'm fine with any and all local Tahoe activists in the club using their combined influence to come up with alternative policies in this Heavenly issue and any others that you folks have concerns for. That's the American way. However personally without knowing the details, I can't help but be suspicious of motives and have doubts on the value of blocking construction of the lift in that area even if a few old growth red fir are cut down. ...David
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Postby madeintahoe » Mon Feb 19, 2007 10:54 am

Kerstin

Thank you posting this! I tell you between this, the taking away more wild land to make the golf course, people complaining about the bears & coyotes, raccoons, beavers, the geese poop!! I am soooooooo sick and disgusted on what is going on here. I remember our talk about this....that Save the North Bowl sign that was up going out of town into Meyers is no longer there.

Has anyone done a protest yet? or a petition? What about a tree sit?
Im going to talk to my friend Laurel about what she knows..she is involved in watershed and attends all the TRPA meetings

Are you going to go to the meeting? I would like to go to it. I will email you.
It's very sad this is even an issue going on..as there are other ways. I will no longer support any business that is involved with Heavenly Valley and I will tell everyone I know. I bet a lot of skiers and snowboarders would be against this that are out of towners & if they knew about what Heavenly wants to do they would voice there opinion..im sure they are keeping it very quite and being sneaky about it to the tourist..Thats what really pisses me off :angry:

To me I feel that us humans have disruputed and taken so much wild land away in the Tahoe Basin...I think it is about time we start protecting what is left. And again they do not have to do this..there are other ways
Kerstin thank you again! Awesome tree hugging picture..very cool!
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Postby dave54 » Mon Feb 19, 2007 8:07 pm

"...The Tahoe Basin has only 5% of its original forest remaining. It doesn't seem the powers-that-be at Heavenly care about that..."

Not completely true. Playing fast and loose with terminology -- a favorite sierra club tactic. According to a peer reviewed and published survey the Lake Tahoe Basin's forests are 40% old growth. This is a higher amount than original presettlement forest conditions.

But that little attempt at rhetoric aside the environmental impacts of ski runs are often ignored. Ski runs are a socially acceptable form of clearcutting. In contrast to clearcutting for sound forest management reasons, ski runs are specifically designed to maximize erosion and soil loss.
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Postby Kerstin » Tue Feb 20, 2007 2:44 pm

My thread doesn't have anything to do with the Sierra Club. I'm not even a Sierra Club member. It has to do with persuading the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to choose Alternative 5 or 4a.

I'm not an alpine ski hater. I'm an avid Telemark skier who skis at both resorts and in the backcountry. I don't see a division between between backcountry skiers and resort users. I know only one person who boycotts ski areas and solely rides the backcountry. The vast majority of people I know do both. As for resort-skiing tourists, most of them seem to be totally unaware that the backcountry exists. "Where's the backcountry?" they'd ask me.

The TRPA is the organization that will be choosing which alternative to use, not Heavenly and not the Sierra Club. Here's more information:

Alternative 5 replaces the slow fixed-grip lifts that currently exist with high speed lifts. Few to no trees would be cut.

Alternative 4a would have a kinked lift to the top of Olympic with a mid-station where the North Bowl chair currently lets people off. More trees would be cut with this alternative but much less than with Alternative 4.

Alternative 4 would have a single lift running from the bottom of the North Bowl chair to the top of the Olympic Chair. Over 300 old growth trees would be cut down just to make the new lift pathway. New ski runs would be cut straight through the Red Fir grove as well.

I worked at Heavenly for two seasons as a Mountain Host. My job consisted of skiing around and answering questions, giving directions, helping injured people find their way to Ski Patrol and giving mountain tours. I've had a season pass there since 2000. I am very familiar with the mountain. The current lift configuration of the Olympic and North Bowl chairs works very well. Skiers who want to get to East Peak lodge or ski the North Bowl trees can get off at the top of the North Bowl chair and go on their way. Other skiers can head to the Olympic Chair and ski the wide, uncrowded, easy-intermediate slopes of upper Olympic run. The current lift configuration divides the skiers up and helps prevent overcrowding.

With the Alternative 4 chair, all skiers who wanted to access the upper mountain would end up at the top of Olympic. Anyone who wanted to get to East Peak lodge and the Dipper and Comet chairs would have to ski down the narrow cat track called Von Schmidt, then use the Ponderosa or Bonanza runs. These two runs cross another cat track called Crossover perpendicularly. It is already a very dangerous situation even with the small amount of skiers coming from the old and slow two-seater Olympic Chair. It is like a four-way intersection with no stop signs.

I hike at Heavenly in the summertime. It's a mess. Most people never get to see the eroded ski slopes and rutted fire roads that are covered with snow in the winter. Heavenly seems to be having serious trouble re-vegetating some of their ski runs and lift pathways. Many of them were cut decades ago, but due to nutrient-poor soils and the short growing season, they are still virtually free of vegetation. What Heavenly also does on their lower elevation ski runs that is unnoticable in the winter is cut back any existing vegetation to just inches above ground level. They do this to make the runs skiable with less snow. I wonder how long the willow, alder and other shrubs that grow on these slopes can survive losing the majority of their leaves each summer.

Think of overused areas you've seen in the Sierra, with four or five hiker trenches all running parallel to each other. Think about how long these damaged areas will take to heal. Then imagine a clear cut a few hundred feet wide on a steep slope at the same altitude.

Monument Peak does not need anymore damage and habitat fragmentation. Just because this peak is not located in a wilderness area or national park doesn't mean it shouldn't be preserved. Old growth habitat is extremely rare and is important no matter where it's located.

Yes, many trees in the Sierra die each year due to beetle infestations, fire, air pollution and "development". I can't do much to stop beetle infestations and lightning-started fires. These natural processes thin overgrown forests. I support the forest service effort to thin the dense and unhealthy second growth forests of the Tahoe Basin. In fact, my husband and I are currently thinning the lot we "own" behind our house. Over the last five years we've cut the spindly, diseased trees and left the healthy trees and the ones that seemed like they had a chance to recover. Because they had more sunlight and less competition for water, they did recover. Previously struggling Mule Ears and other wildflowers on the lot are now thriving and blooming.

I can do something about air pollution but this isn't the subject of this thread. I can do something about "development". That's what I'm trying to do by creating this thread.

Lake Tahoe is in serious trouble. Did you see the massive algae bloom that took place last June? The rocks on the shoreline were coated with white fuzz six inches thick. It was so creepy and disgusting looking I was afraid to go in the water. This was a lake-wide event. It was heart breaking. More erosion from "development" up at Heavenly is only going to make things worse. An old growth forest that has been cut into strips no longer functions as old growth forest.

I know some people would scream "hypocrite" because I have purchased a season pass at Heavenly. My not purchasing a pass would make no difference in Heavenly's ability to fund the destruction of Monument Peak. If all locals stopped purchasing passes it wouldn't make a difference. Having a pass allows me to stay aware of what they're doing, since the pass can be used in the summer for the Gondola. Besides, it's a steep and sandy two-hour hike up Heavenly Creek just to reach the base of the Powderbowl Chair. ;)

I feel I can actually accomplish something by spreading the news and protesting. With enough public outcry the TRPA can be persuaded to choose a less damaging alternative.

From the time I moved here almost seven years ago, I've been extremely concerned about the Tahoe Basin's environmental issues. In that short amount of time there has been a noticeable reduction in the lake's clarity. Every summer while snorkeling in the lake I notice more algae on the rocks and more invasive species. I'm also concerned with the fact that most people who live here don't seem to care. From reading various publications, talking with and learning from others concerned with the environment in the Tahoe Basin, and hiking here constantly over the last six-and-a-half years, I feel the statement that 5% of the forest in the basin is old growth is accurate. If it's really 15 % does it really matter? Is that not rare enough to warrant concern? Here are some links:

http://trg.ucdavis.edu/research/annualr ... cle23.html

http://tinyurl.com/375jv7

http://gis.ca.gov/catalog/BrowseRecord.epl?id=4668

http://www.lteec.org/news.php?newsID=55

http://calag.ucop.edu/0602AMJ/editover.html

As for there being more old growth trees in the Tahoe Basin now than before the Comstock Lode logging, are you sure you don't mean densely packed, second growth trees? If that's what you mean I would heartily agree.

I hope some of you are motivated to e-mail the TRPA regarding Heavenly's plans.
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Postby madeintahoe » Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:22 pm

Kerstin...Thank you!

I just sent my email to TRPA....do you have a contact at the USFS by chance?
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Postby Kerstin » Fri Feb 23, 2007 5:35 pm

Thank you, Anita!

I don't know a contact for the Forest Service but I bet you could find out by calling the League to Save Lake Tahoe at the Y. :)
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Postby dave54 » Sat Feb 24, 2007 6:03 pm

Here is the breakdown of old growth forest in the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit according to a 2002 survey. The source link is below. Two additional links provide earlier papers that used an older, now obsolete, definition of old growth and concluded that in the early 1990's the Sierra Nevada and California was 15% and 20% old growth. No specific breakdown to the Lake Tahoe area.


Tahoe Basin Management Unit by SAF type.
SAF forest type Acres of Forestland Acres of Old growth Percent old growth forestland
California mixed subalpine 25,006 10,144 40.6%
Jeffrey pine 21,717 13,773 63.4%
Lodgepole pine 12,398 8,093 65.3%
Red fir 26,320 11,974 45.5%
Sierra Nevada mixed conifer 17,188 4,097 23.8%
White fir 16,410 3,250 19.8%
Other conifer 1,985 0 0.0%
Conifer-less than 10% cover of trees 6,971 na na
Uninventoried forestland 427 na na
Total 128,422 51,332 40.0% *
* The proportion of forestland that is old growth does not include pure hardwoods or uninventoried forestland. It can be assumed that the non-stocked forestland (less than 10% cover of trees) is not old growth.


http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/rsl/publication ... growth.pdf

http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/rsl/publication ... rra-nv.pdf

http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_rb197.pdf

An additional paper published by the California Board of Forestry (unable to locate on their website) showed the conifer forests of California as a whole are 32% old growth or late seral. This survey was conducted according to the 1992 Montreal agreement -- the internationally accepted and UN sanctioned methods of forest inventory and mapping.


Some web sites and organizations use the term "ancient forests" and "heritage forests". Those are political and propaganda terms, not scientific ones. They have no ecological meaning. Even the term '"original forest" is suspect. Forests are in a continuous state of growth, death, and rebirth. The origin of the current forest structure and composition is irrelevant. The wildlife that occupy it do not know or care whether the current habitat was created by a clearcut or natural disturbance 140 years ago. Two local forest stands near Mineral, CA are a good example. One was clearcut in 1928 and subsequently replanted, and there has been no harvesting since. That stand is now classified as approaching old growth. Another nearby stand was old growth in 1932 at its first harvest entry -- a sanitation cut. It has had three entries since, two salvage entries and another sanitation cut, the last in 1990, and the stand is still old growth. Of course both these stands are Dunning Site Class 1 (1A?) and rank among the best forest soils and microclimate sites in CA.

There is no such thing as 'old growth trees'. Forests can be old growth. Individual trees are not. Some old growth forests have large old trees as one component, however under most of the accepted definitions old growth has other components that must be present as well. (There are 145 different forest types classified in the U.S. Every one will eventually have its own unique definition of old growth. Not all have accepted definitions yet.) A stand of large old trees may not be an old growth stand, and the old growth form of some forest types do not have large trees at all. The largest contiguous stand of old growth forest in the U.S. (at 400 sq miles) is in California. Millions of people drive right through it every year and do not recognize it as old growth. Some may not even call it a forest. Yet the blue oak/digger pine forests of the northern Sierra foothills represent the old growth stage of that particular forest type.

There is a widespread misconception among the public, and even some professionals, that prior to European settlement all forests were old growth. That is not true. The original Sierra Nevada conifer forests were no more than 25-30% old growth. The remainder was mid-seral, young seral, and openings (brushfields, balds, and meadows). The old growth that did exist was in small non-contiguous stands, averaging less than 5 acres in size. Contrary to popular fiction fire destroys some types of old growth. Fire suppression allowed old growth to develop where frequent fire prevented old growth forests.

There is another misperception that old growth is more biodiverse. In some regions that is true, but in the Sierra Nevada old growth conifer forest is less biodiverse than either early- or mid-seral forests. From a pure ecological standpoint, old growth not more important than any other forest stage, and according to some wildlife biologists, less so.

The pre-settlement structure and composition of Sierra Nevada forests is now understood. Four different researchers, from four different professional backgrounds, using four different methods all reached similar conclusions. Bonnicksen (ecologist) used computer modeling, Taylor (biogeographer) used tree ring/age cohort data, Gruell (wildlife biologist) used 19th century photos, and Olson (fire manager) used written official survey reports, diaries, and journals from the 19th century. Forests were very open, much less canopy closure, and very little large continuous expanse of old growth. One area in Lassen County, between Eagle Lake and the Caribou Wilderness, was not even forested until the settlement era. It was a savannah with less than 10% canopy. Cattle grazing and fire suppression combined to allow the present forest to grow to its present cover and density. Now there are pockets of old growth there.

The Sierra Nevada in general, and Lake Tahoe in particular, are facing many challenges. Old growth is not one of them. On a relative scale, old growth preservation is a minor issue. Media hype and mis- and dis-information by the environmental industry are blowing the old growth issue into something it is not. This is an environmental disservice, as the misapplied public attention is displacing effort and funding from the more pressing issues of water, recreation, urban growth, and fire.
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Postby AldeFarte » Sat Feb 24, 2007 7:32 pm

Dave, Very interesting and informative. Thanks.jls
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Postby Kerstin » Sat Feb 24, 2007 9:26 pm

dave54, I'm not entirely sure what you are trying to say with your posts. You seem to be saying my concerns are misguided and unimportant.

Do you work for Heavenly? Are you going to be cutting the trees if alternative 4 is chosen? My thread was about trying to encourage people to write the TRPA about Heavenly's plans to cut an old growth stand of trees. The watershed these trees are located in has already been designated as one of the most degraded in the area. Cutting these trees with further the degradation of this watershed.

What happened to the Tahoe Basin during the Comstock Lode was entirely unnatural. Massive clear cuts are unnatural. The evenly-aged forests that now ring the lake are unnatural. There are more trees now than before the Comstock era clear cutting. But how does the quality of this habitat compare to what existed before all that destruction? The Tahoe Basin does not need to lose anymore old growth habitat. The forests of Monument Peak should not be cut into strips. How many times have you read about a species decline or extinction due to loss of habitat? I read about it all the time.

Thank you for your statistics. But they don't seem to be specific to the Tahoe Basin. I am curious to see the high-altitude forest that is younger than my grandmothers but is classified as approaching old growth. What does "approaching old growth" mean? It could be argued that all younger forests, even groups of tree seedlings, could be classified as "approaching old growth". To me it seems like the definition of old growth has been expanded in order to increase percentages.

All environmental issues are connected. I'm really surprised you would think I'm doing a disservice by being concerned with the old growth forest of Monument Peak, which has everything to do with habitat loss, urban growth (ski resort expansion), and water quality. I know no one who is concerned only with old growth forest preservation.

This is my last post on the matter as nothing is being accomplished here. I'm tired of focusing my energy on something like this.
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Postby ridgeline » Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:07 am

Kerstin, chill girl!
You have not wasted any time here, Im starting to look at the subject, you have created an interest, others will also gain an interest, read and make a decision as to what our individual stance will be.
Thanks for bringing this subject to our attention.
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Postby hikerduane » Thu Mar 01, 2007 8:43 pm

I see in the 'Nevada Appeal' that Heavenly got what they wanted, alternate 4.
Piece of cake.
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