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Tag Archive | "Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche"

Consolidating Opposing Views


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche. By Ranger Steve Mueller

One would think scientific physical evidence would be a used to protect the family. Science cannot provide absolute definitive conclusions. Science is under constant review, testing, and modification. Concerns like human caused climate change has massive evidence indicating our activities since the mid 1800’s threatens a healthy future. That is a conclusion supported by 97 percent of climatologists using empirical evidence.

Ranger Steve Mueller

About 3 percent of scientists question if evidence is adequate. Money supporting those views is used to sway public opinion to benefit businesses with fossil fuel interests. Published scientific study evidence overwhelming supports climate change is exasperated by human activities. Most people do not read scientific articles but studies are presented in newspapers and on TV news without analytical methods described. 

How people interpret the bible determines whether “Creation Care” is addressed as our responsibility. Some people think 30 million species were taken on the ark, cared for, fed, and housed until land reappeared. Others think is it is a parable designed to illustrate or teach a truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. 

Scientists present opposing views in journals. Religions have opposing views in religious writings. Those views should be considered in their respective writings. Science and religion can complement each other. The greatest difficulty arises when we dismiss one worldview because it is not the one we want to embrace. Faith is meant to explain “why” and science is meant to explain “how.” Together they might help us understand our existence.

Currently, at the forefront of Creation Care are PFAS, lead in drinking water, and genetically modified crops with neonaticides. It appears most people do not address issues directly but leave decisions to chemical industries or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA funding and use of science is being limited and dismissed by presidential order. 

The EPA’s job was to protect our health and protect water bodies from misuse that jeopardizes community health. President Trump’s announcement to gut clean water safeguards strips away vital protections for streams and wetlands, threatens floodplain homes, endangers drinking water supplies and impairs important habitats for species aquatic nature niches that support birds, fish, ducks, and other wildlife. 

Some think when vulnerable floodplains are converted to cultivation that results in crops being destroyed and soil washed into streams, farm loss subsidies should be appropriated to help farmers. Others think when homes downstream are flooded as a result of eliminating floodplain protections that hold floodwaters and release water slowly, homeowner subsidies should help them recover losses created by upstream farming practices. 

Following the 1930’s “Dust Bowl”, practices were implemented to alleviate farming problems that resulted in soil loss from economically devastating farming. As a society, our memory is short. Conservation methods designed to help farmers are now being abandoned for those known to harm farmers and communities. 

Some Americans do not want wetlands protected on land they own or manage even if the activities harm neighbors’ and livelihoods downstream. Such issues are always difficult. People should ask themselves if they should concern themselves with “me first” verses “present and future generations first.” It is not either/or!

The landmark Clean Water Act has protected drinking water supplies, swimming spots, homes, and fishing holes from dangerous practices for nearly 50 years. Under this Act, the Clean Water Rule was established to clearly define which bodies of water are covered under this protection and they include wetlands that filter pollution, curb flooding, and streams that feed drinking water supplies. 

President Trump’s EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers finalized its repeal of the Clean Water Rule, jeopardizing groundwater drinking supplies for millions of Americans, streams, wetlands and homes.

The question should be whether it is morally correct and legal to damage the health and wellbeing of neighbors  for personal benefit. We should each debate in our minds our moral values and elect officials that make laws according to our conclusions. Your answer can use both religious and scientific views rather than an either/or. That is the consolidated philosophical worldview I suggest.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Spring and Summer Azures


Ranger Steve’s Nature NicheBy Ranger Steve Mueller

An azure sky captivates us on clear sunny warm days. Tiny pieces of sky flit nearby as we tend the garden, walk the woods, and field edges. Notice the tiny blue wings carry the Spring Azure butterfly on what might seems like an aimless journey. 

Their multifaceted eyes capture color drawing them to other blue butterflies and to flowers where they feed on nectar. They are able to locate plants essential to feed their offspring. Dogwood and viburnums shrubs are important. Adults lay eggs on developing flowerheads where the eggs hatch to feed. 

Eggs are laid singly and scattered throughout the habitat on host plants. The adult blue is about size of a dime when wings are folded over its back. The underwing appears light gray with black spotting. When it opens it wings, the upper sky azure flashes blue beauty. Males are brighter blue than females. Notice the female has a wider dark band along wing’s edge. 

As June approaches, the spring azure become less abundant and summer azures emerge. Summer azures gray underwing spots are not dark or bold. Spring Azures have a more distinctive zig zag line along the hind wing border. The differences between the two species are minor and make it difficult to distinguish them apart. 

For decades the nearly identical butterflies were thought to be the same species with slightly differing appearing spring and summer forms. Many butterflies have variable spring and summer color forms that differ depending on temperature during development. It was discovered the “spring azure form” did not produce a summer form as a second brood. Instead it stayed in the chrysalis until the following spring. Scientists studying anatomy of wing scales discovered unique wing scale structures differed between the two species. 

Mysteries of inhabitants of our yards abound. We might expect there are just two species of the tiny blue azures but not so. There are additional azures including one in our area called the cherry gall azure. Biodiversity of species with specialized nature niches continue to demonstrate amazing adaptations. 

Beyond the azure complex, the Silvery Blue butterfly has more iridescent deep blue upper wings with tan underwings. Instead of scattered dark spots on the underwing, it has a single row of black spots circled with white that arc across the underside. The Silvery Blues like other blues have a short adult life of about one week. During that time, they seek legumes where they lay eggs. We only get to see these iridescent blues when adults are on the wing during a few weeks of the year. Males emerge first.

The Federally Endangered Karner Blue butterfly resides in our area and has a deep blue upper wing with an orange underwing band along wing’s edge that is absent on Silvery Blues, Spring and Summer Azures. Its larval host plant is restricted to one species—Wild Blue Lupine.

As summer solstice arrives, another blue butterfly appears. The Eastern Tailed Blue has a gray underwing with similar black dotted pattern like azures but bears a small orange patch and a tiny tail projecting from the hind wing. When viewed from above, tiny black dots appear along the hind edge of the wing near the tail. 

It might seem like few butterfly species share habitat with us but about 50 species live at Ody Brook and perhaps dozens share your residence. By encouraging native plants to thrive, you can enhance opportunities for butterfly biodiversity during a time when wildlife are having difficulty surviving. How we behave and promote healthy living conditions around our homes is critical to a healthy environment for life on Earth. 

Manicured lawns are a sight to behold but are sterile for supporting native butterflies struggling to survive where native host plants are excluded. Make the effort to support native plants and animals. Enjoy the beauty and life found in wild habitats by allowing native species to share your yard. Be a force helping wildlife.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Left Unsaid


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

We did yard work in the spring as the grass greened and our planted flowers began blooming. We anticipated the flowering crab apple blooming around Mother’s Day. Dad lamented kids cutting through the backyard in spring because it killed the grass. They cut through our yard to pick me up on the way to school. 

The grass on wet ground during spring could not withstand the trampling like it could in summer or fall. We had a dog that was on a rope during the day while we were gone. He defecated in the corner by the back of the garage and it required considerable pick up in the spring. We buried it by the fence at the back of the yard.

The neighbor living behind us was a police officer and his daughter was my age. He made a greenhouse covered with plastic sheeting to start plants early so he could plant them in his yard. His greenhouse was about three feet tall and large enough to supply the plants wanted for vegetables and beauty. 

A couple houses down the street, an elder neighbor had the most beautiful yard of flowering plants and neighborhood kids were not allowed to cut through his yard. Most yards were fairly small and provided enough space for general play but were not large enough for baseball. 

The wonderful large five-acre wetland across the street from our home was where we waded to find frogs, crayfish and many wonders. It was tiled and drained between our church and the parsonage. I was saddened with the loss. I recall John Scott cutting through the wetland and losing his shoe in the mud.

Not only was his shoe lost forever but so was the multitude of life that serenaded us with frog songs, noisy dragonfly wings, calling swallows and I am sure buzzing mosquitoes. The drained field became a haven for activity where our church installed a ball field. We flew kites and played frisbee there. Mr. Schlutz, who attended our church, did the tiling construction work, dug up a large glacial erratic rock that was placed by the church drive entrance. It was directly across the street from our house. We enjoyed the rock for climbing and viewing for the entire time we lived there. The rock still persists. He also made a hill in the field that became a sledding hill for many years before being leveled. 

Memories from childhood are good and bad. Perhaps most people enjoyed the flat grassy field with a ball field more than the wetland but I missed the piece of wild that disappeared. There were small fields between homes where we explored nature but they disappeared as new homes were added to our neighborhood. Now the neighborhood has no wild lots for children to discover life’s nature niches. 

By the time I was in upper elementary, it was necessary to walk two blocks to the city limit where fallow farm fields were wild. They quickly became residential developments. I could not understand how that could happen because they were outside the city limit in the country where I thought it had to remain farmland or wild fields. So began my education about urban sprawl that engulfs life for our ever-growing human population. 

By the time I was in high in school, I decided a two-child family was my limit in order to share creation with the abundance of life we inherited rather than crowd life off the planet. On Friday nights, I watched Walt Disney nature shows and the Flintstones on our new color TV with dad and brothers. I marveled at the wildlife depicted and decided on a career connected to helping wildlife survive with us. 

Those were pleasant evenings with dad while mom went bowling with her team after we ate a fish dinner. Dad is gone and I wish I could tell him how much I enjoyed those evenings. I recall telling him that I am sure I would have things to share with him after he was gone and it would be sad not to able to tell him. He told me not to leave things left unsaid because we never know if he might hear them. Dad, I miss the nature niche across the street and the time with you. Thank you for taking to me to national parks, boy scout camp, and wild places. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Deafening


Ranger Steve’s Nature NicheBy Ranger Steve Mueller

Little ponds that dry by mid-summer exude great volume to deafen you at night. One of my great joys is to approach one these ponds in spring. One hears a great cacophony but the pond suddenly becomes silent when approached. If the pond is large enough, the noise continues from the far side. 

Adult Spring Peeper.

Walk slowly around the pond and the noise will cease. If you are moving slow enough, the noise will begin again behind you. Sit and listen. Frogs will quiet with your approach but after a short time of sitting, one frog will sing and others will join. It is breeding season for frogs and they gather from surrounding areas to mate and lay egg masses in temporary vernal ponds. Vernal ponds dry or almost dry by midsummer. 

They are the most important breeding areas for most frogs because egg predators like fish do not survive in ponds that dry. Frogs call with songs unique to their species. Species that deafen us are only the size of your little finger tip. So many gather in the small pond that their joint volume hurts our ears. 

The smallest frogs are spring peepers that spend the summer away from the pond feeding on insects. Their song is a single peep repeated over and over throughout the night. When calling males get hold of a female, they squeeze eggs from her tiny body. His sperm is released on the emerging eggs that are in a jelly mass. The jelly encasing the eggs absorbs water and swells to become as large as the frog or bigger. 

Inside the jelly mass, eggs are two-toned. They have counter-shading with dark tops and light undersides. If they are laid in locations like permanent ponds and this occurs, they are somewhat invisible to fish from underneath because the light color blends with the light sky. From above the dark color blends with the dark pond bottom hiding them from predators. The jelly masses are attached to vegetation holding them in place. 

By the time the developing embryos hatch, the jelly encasing them has become green with cyanobacteria that digests the jelly. The tadpole coming from the egg can break free from the jelly without being stuck and killed. As a polliwog, some nutrition is absorbed from the tail. It feeds on floating aquatic vegetation as an herbivore unlike its adult parents that are predators on insects. The adult and kids do not compete for food. As the tadpole grows legs, its tail shrinks and the diet changes from vegetation to animal matter like insects or other invertebrates. By the time the pond dries, tadpoles become frogs and move into the woods. 

Another small frog that shares the vernal pond is the chorus frog. It is as tiny as spring peepers but can be recognized from the peepers by having three stripes on its back from head to rear. Spring peepers have an X on their back. A chorus frog song can be imitated by rubbing a thumb over the teeth of a comb. Ten thousand of these singing with ten thousand spring peepers is painful to our ears at close range. 

A frog found in breeding ponds that is several times larger is the wood frog. It is brown and has a dark Lone Ranger mask over its eyes. Their song sounds like ducks quacking. Their abundance in ponds is great but I think they are fewer than the smaller frogs. They too can be found throughout the forest in summer. 

Green and bull frogs need permanent ponds for egg laying because most young take two summers to mature. They breed in temporary ponds but survival for their offspring is precarious. Survival will be touch and go depending on how long water remains in the pond. Some vernal ponds persist all year but shrink greatly in size. If fortunate the large frogs might survive the winter in small fish-free pools. American toads breed in almost any water they find. Young develop quickly but mortality is high because tiny breeding pools often dry quickly.

The little frogs lay eggs in permanent ponds and bogs where some survive. If they are away from open water with fish they might be protected for development. Few tadpoles survive to become breeding adults. Populations are declining for several reasons but a big one is the filling or draining of temporary ponds. We can share the world with them by allowing vernal ponds to exist and by using few or no pesticides in nature niches.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Slow start


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

Delays test our patience. Waiting challenges us to get outside in search of hidden treasures. We plant early flowering species like crocuses and daffodils to greet us with cheer before native species bloom. Dwarf daffodils are blooming though they have an inch of new snow covering. Tall daffodils are about to open. 

A few native species have bloomed and will shed accessory flower parts except for the fertilized ovary that contains the developing seed. Red and silver maples will litter the yard with expended red flower parts and soon will follow with seeds attached to a helicopter wing. Seeds will spiral though the air to germination sites and some will be picked up by us to use as whistles with kids or grandkids. Placing the flat seed wing between our tongue and mouth roof for blowing will make a loud whistle and is a traditional sign of spring. What kid would miss announcing spring with this whistle? It is as important as the town’s noon whistle but parents or friends must teach them how the whistle works. Do not miss experiencing spring excitement with children. 

Hazel nut flowers have already shed pollen and speckled alders are still in the process. 

At ground level trout lilies or adder’s tongues and spring beauties are among the first ephemerals to carpet the woods with yellow and pink. Emerging maroon pyramidal growth breaks ground with some already having expanded into leaves with trout-like spots. April’s fresh snow does not disturb them. A few spring beauties show tiny leaves and flower buds but they wait for warmer days to open blooms.

Birds that spent the winter elsewhere are making their comeback to neighborhoods. Eastern Towhees, Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, Eastern Phoebes, and Red-winged Blackbirds are filling spaces that have been devoid of apparent life for too long. Their calls and songs give us hope that spring is really underway. 

Where are the butterflies? A few that overwinter as adults have come out on warm sunny days. Sun warmth penetrates cavities where Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, and a few other anglewings have been holed up for months. My first sighting of the year was a Mourning Cloak on March 28. That is later than I expected but not unusual. Two more were seen on the 70ºF day along with an Eastern Comma during the first week of April. 

The following day a Cabbage White actively searched the backyard for signs of life to suit its interests. That species does not overwinter as an adult. It spent the cold season in a chrysalis and emerged with fresh wings. Viceroy butterfly caterpillars overwintered as tiny 1/8-inch-long larva wrapped in a tiny willow leaf that it tied to the stem with silk. When leaf buds open the young viceroy will begin feeding on delicate soft leaves. 

With additional warm weather, large swallowtails will emerge from chrysalises to grace us with their presence when serviceberry shrubs display white flowers that provide nectar. The slow start of life’s spring activity is about to cease and a mad race to complete nature niche growing activity will overwhelm us with too much to absorb.

It is time for us to mark calendars for mid-summer butterfly counts when butterfly activity is abundant. Visit the West Michigan Butterfly Association web site (http://graud.org/wmba.html) for details about regional counts in our area that include the Allegan (June 29), Rogue River (July 3), Muskegon State Game Areas (July 18) and the Manistee National Forest (July 5). For now, mark your calendar and plan to participate part or all day. If needed, contact Ranger Steve for additional information. 

Butterfly counts are wonderful for discovering a variety of habitats, learning butterfly identification, and enjoying the outdoors. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Cross-Country Skiing


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche | By Ranger Steve Mueller

The end of winter fun on cross-country skis comes with mixed feelings and experiences. Skiing on fresh cold snow is a joy but breaking trail is hard work. Cold weather makes for best snow gliding but challenges our extremities if not well dressed. Warmer temperatures might be more comfortable but snow tends to cake on skis. I prefer temperatures between 0ºF and 15ºF. Next is -15ºF to 0ºF.  Above 15ºF is too warm for both skies and me. Below -15ºF is too cold.

We used to live in northern Minnesota where snow seemed to stay fresh and pure most of the winter. From Christmas to mid-February the temperature remained near zero or below for six weeks. When -15ºF the snow is good for gliding on ski tracks but hypothermia potential rises. On one outing a member of our group began experiencing hypothermia when we were still a half hour from a warming house at Itasca State Park. 

When body temperature drops, thinking becomes clouded. Protecting body parts from frost nip is important. Muscle coordination begins to fail. Dave was experiencing confusion and some loss of muscle coordination. It was -30ºF. We escorted him with encouragement and other than being too cold he suffered no body damage. 

It is wonderful to have groomed ski trails. In popular areas, a grooming machine provides the tracks to provide good gliding without the need to almost use skies like snowshoes. Kick and glide is the ideal. It can become habit to walk with skies instead of gliding. When one pushes against the ground (kick), the ski should grip to power the skier forward. When the slide momentum begins to slow another kick maintains momentum.

My wood skis require wax. A variety of waxes are produced for various temperature conditions and they work better than the newer fish-scale skis in my opinion. The fish-scale tread is designed to work in all conditions but that is like assuming car tire treads will work equally well in all conditions. 

My skis will ice up and snow will begin to stick but in my pocket I have different grades of wax. I scrape the ice and apply a fresh wax or sometimes a different wax for changing conditions. Friends on no-wax skies cannot refresh their skis and snow globs continue to cake, making it harder for an ideal glide.

When I first began cross-country skiing, my friend Molly taught me skills and etiquette. First was kick and glide. A significant number of people do not take advantage of the glide and create more work for themselves. When necessary to stop, good etiquette is to step out of the ski track to keep the trail in good condition. 

Occasionally, I fall for one reason or another. It is mostly on a twisting downhill stretch. Usually the fall landing is beside the trail. When I get up, I make an effort to rise next to the trail and step back onto the track. More challenging can be an about face turn to head in the opposite direction. I am able to lift my long right ski and rotate it 180º and set it facing in the opposite direction in the ski track. Then I swing the left ski around and set it outside the track next my other ski. Once turned around, I move my right ski into the other track and my left ski into the remaining track. Now I am ready to proceed in the opposite direction. 

Groomed trails are frequently one-way trails to keep skiing safer. On trails that I create at Ody Brook or in wilderness areas where other skiers will not be encountered, reversing direction is acceptable. 

Uphill skiing can become impossible to kick and slide. One does not want to end up skiing backwards down a hill. Herring-boning becomes necessary. The rear end of skies are kept close together and tips spread widely to allow walking up the hill. This obliterates the track but is necessary. Some remove skies and walk uphill. Molly taught skiing skills but I had different teaching responsibilities. She wanted to learn winter trees and shrubs. While enjoying winter on skis in the black and white beauty accented under a clear blue sky, we stopped to examine nature niche intricacies of the woody plant buds, leaf scars, lenticels, and other stem characters. 

Enjoy the exquisite beauty around you when skiing but do not miss the trees for the forest. Take time to examine trees, shrubs, animal tracks and occasional bird activity along the trail. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Morning’s first arrivals


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche By Ranger Steve Mueller

Does the early bird get the worm? I recorded the order bird species arrived at feeders or flew through the sanctuary one morning between 7 a.m. and 8:30. I expected arrival to begin shortly after 7 a.m. in mid-February. Table 1 shows the first arrival time for each species on three dates. 

After observing one morning, I thought it necessary to get additional data because one day’s observation might be quite different from other days. It would be good to gather arrival times and the order species arrived for many days to determine if there is a pattern. I would like to have gathered data for 20 or 30 days so it would be more statistically reliable. 

Each succeeding midwinter day, the sun rises a little earlier so it is expected to change bird wake up and activity times. 

With previous casual observation, I noticed Northern Cardinals are among the first arrivals at daylight and last to depart at dusk. The number of birds at the feeders are most abundant midday. Squirrels impact bird use. It seems like birds and squirrels take turns but I do not think it is by choice. There are 18 squirrels that visit and when they are present, birds tend to stay away. As soon as squirrels leave birds come to feed. 

A factor that affects bird activity is foot-candles of light. That is the amount the light produced by a candle at a distance of one foot. More candles produce more light at one foot. As daylight breaks, the area lightens with increased foot-candles of light. Various species become active at different light levels. Some are late sleepers until it is brighter. 

If the sky is clear there will be more light to produce a higher foot-candle luminance. It is obvious that on cloudy days there are fewer foot-candles of light. I did not measure foot-candles of light to compare with bird arrival times. That would be interesting to see how light levels affected early morning bird activity times. 

Another factor that makes a difference for bird arrival is their location in the time zone. Birds living at the same latitude but at the eastern edge of the time zone experience sunrise an hour early than birds living at the western edge. For convenience, time zones are set for a middle longitude and the time is accepted as the same for the whole zone. Birds do not use our clocks. They use foot-candles of light in the area where they live.

It gets light almost an hour earlier on the east coast of North America than it does at the Lake Michigan shoreline. Birds living on the east coast become active earlier in the day. North-south latitudes affect daylight hours. We are familiar with the land of the midnight sun in the Arctic Circle summer and 24 hours of darkness in winter. Here summer daylight is about 16 hours and winter light about 8 hours. Near equator light and dark remains close to 12 hours all year. 

Table 1 shows first arrival time for each species. The arrival sequence is numbered. It was not the same. If I gathered data for many days, it would provide a more reliable record for determining if species have a consistent sequence for arrival.

Outlier data needs to be ignored. It is possible that an individual for a species could arrive unusually early or late for an abnormal reason. Having many days’ data would allow us to see the abnormal and ignore it. Other outlier data I needed to ignore was first arrivals recorded much later in the day. I did not watch the feeder continuously after 8:30 a.m. Arrival times recorded for bird species later in the day most likely was not a first arrival. They might have come a few minutes after I stopped watching at 8:30. Times later in the day are outlier data that cannot be included when determining nature niche activity.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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