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Image of loggerhead sea turtle hatchling.
Georgia Wildlife Resources Division logo

September 2009

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Also in this issue
* Water your birds
* Bad-news bats?
* Profiling buckthorn
* A must-see tupelo

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Each option supports the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds to conserve Georgia’s nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats. Details: (770) 761-3035.

WILD Facts
Box turtles travel through the woods and cross roads more frequently after heavy rains. The soaked soil brings worms, snails and insects to the surface, allowing for easy pickings. Other foods include mushrooms, berries and carrion. Compared to other turtle species, the box turtle’s top shell (carapace) appears very dome-shaped. The bottom shell, or plastron, is hinged and can close tightly when threatened. Males typically have red eyes while females have brown or yellow eyes. You may be tempted to collect this beautiful reptile from the wild and keep it as a pet, but doing so is illegal in Georgia.
In education
Educators who aren't plugged in to www.georgiawildlife.com are missing: Put the resources of Wildlife Resources to work in your classroom!

D.C. talk
The U.S. Senate's take on climate change legislation has been delayed. A recent report says key committee leaders Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry will not introduce legislation until late September. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had wanted debate on the floor by this month, has agreed to more time for fine-tuning. Some Senate Democrats claimed progress, even as health care reform claimed top billing in Congress. A Republican leader called the delay evidence of disarray among Democrats. In related news, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced an administration stategy including a climate change council and eight regional centers to monitor and help cope with related impacts to the nation's wildlife and natural resources.

Image of climbing buckthorn.

Up close
Climbing buckthorn
Sageretia minutiflora Charles Mohr
Also called: Rhamnus minutiflora or Sageretia michauxii.
Key characteristics: A climbing shrub with delicate leaves, this plant sprawls upward and outward and may reach 9 feet tall. The stems have short, thorn-tipped branches with small, oval-shaped and fine-toothed leaves. Subtle but sweetly fragrant with five tiny petals, the flowers can be up to 2 inches long, forming leafy spikes near the ends of the branches.
Range: Found in the Southeast coastal region including Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
Habitat: Grows exclusively in calcium rich soils on limestone bluffs, shell mounds on barrier islands and evergreen hammocks along stream banks and coastal marshes. Some of its habitats are man-made; shell mounds are often relict “trash heaps” of coastal Native American Indians who used shellfish as a major food source.
Flowering time: Flowers in August. Fruits appear from September to November. Plants are best identified during the growing season by the leaves and thorny branches.
Fruit: Round, purplish berry up to 3/8 inches long. Splits into three leathery nutlets by winter's end.
ID issues: Often found growing with yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), an evergreen shrub. Climbing buckthorn can be distinguished by its climbing habit, opposite leaves with sharp-serrated margins, thorn-tipped branches and purple fruits.
Status: There are 12 known populations, six on conservation lands (including one military base). The species is listed as threatened in Georgia, but has no federal conservation status.
Threats: Development and clear-cutting of maritime hammocks and other coastal habitats.
Also: This species was first collected in Georgia in 1956 on Sapelo Island. No known human uses for this plant have been described. It can be a challenge to find among tangled shrubs and vines of barrier islands, among prickly pear cactus, Spanish bayonet and coastal red cedar.
How you can help: Promote conservation and sustainable use of Georgia’s barrier islands and marsh habitats.

Sources include: “Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Georgia” (Linda G. Chafin); Wildlife Resources Division

Ranger reports
Dolphin handouts: A congregation of boats and bottlenose dolphins drew the attention of DNR rangers patrolling the St. Catherines Sound area Sept. 6. On closer look, it was apparent that people in smaller boats beside a shrimp boat were hand-feeding dolphins, a violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. "We observed them putting fish in the dolphins' mouths," Cpl. Phillip Scott said. Four people were cited. The National Marine Fisheries Service will decide whether to charge them. The four said they did not know feeding wild dolphins is illegal, Scott said.

camera clip artWatch this animated message about why it's illegal.

sea turtle icon
Tracking sea turtles
A Georgia sea turtle nesting update from www.seaturtle.org.*

False crawls: 1,493
Nests: 992 (37 lost)
Relocated: 489 (49.2%)
Eggs estimate: 88,668
Eggs lost: 5,087 (5.7%)
Eggs hatched: 37,505
Emerged hatchlings: 34,211
Hatch success: 61.1%
Emergence success: 55.7%

Here's a complete look at real-time data and beach-by-beach reports. *As of Sept. 16.

camera clip artHatchlings emerge at Carolina Beach, N.C.

Nongame in the news
Coastal Georgia Birding (blog): "Red knots," blog post using comments, photos from Nongame Program Manager Brad Winn about red knots in Georgia this month. (Sept. 13)
The Macon Telegraph: "Project to aid private forests in Middle Georgia," about Georgia Forestry Commission project to improve forest management in four counties. (Sept. 11)
The Miami Herald: "Rare whales' safety pits U.S. Navy against environmentalists," about controversial plans for undersea warfare range some fear will harm North Atlantic right whales along the Georgia/Florida coast. (Sept. 10)
Florida Times-Union: "South Georgia island to adorn new quarter series," about U.S. Mint's selection of Cumberland Island National Seashore to represent Georgia on series of quarters due out in 2010. (Sept. 10)
Athens Banner-Herald (and others via AP): "Group protects Northeast Georgia watershed," about the Broad River Watershed Association. (Sept. 8)
Georgia Great Places (Georgia Nature Conservancy e-news): "Biologists work to enhance fish habitat," about Conservancy partnership with DNR to enhance fish habitat in Altamaha River sound. (September 2009)
BBC: "Giant rat found in 'lost volcano,'" about BBC expedition that discovered a new mammoth-sized rodent and other unusual species in extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea.
Brown's Guide to Georgia (Georgia Tours blog): Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center profile. (Sept. 7)
Tampa Tribune: "Slain panther's Ga. trip a rarity, officials say," about Florida panther killed in west Georgia. (Sept. 6)
Athens Banner-Herald: "Madison smells a problem in old structures: Bats," about bats using historic county home, courthouse. (Sept. 3)
The (Gainesville) Times: "DNR to push ecotourism," DNR Commissioner Chris Clark discusses agency's new emphasis on tourism. (Sept. 1)
Los Angeles Times: "Peregrines' comeback in East prompts return of limited capture for falconry," about decision to allow limited take of falcons in Georgia, other Eastern Seaboard states. (Aug. 28)
The (Gainesville) Times: "Reservoir proposed for Dawson Forest site," about Etowah Water and Sewer Authority plans to team with a developer in building a 2,000-acre reservoir on Dawson Forest. (Aug. 26) AJC story. (Sept. 6)
Florida Times-Union: "Fire-damaged portion of Okefenokee swamp to be replanted in hardwoods," about Georgia Forestry Commission and Oglethorpe Power Corp. plans to replant 500 acres inside Dixon Memorial State Forest. (Aug. 27)
AmmoLand.com: "Who is No. 1? Georgia is in salamanders, thanks to new species," DNR release about research documenting new salamander species in state. (Aug. 24)
Buckmasters.com: "The line on skinks," WILD Fact on five-lined skinks by DNR's Linda May.
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (and others via AP): "New gov't study shows mercury in fish widespread," about national U.S. Geological Survey study of mercury levels in fish. (Aug. 19)
Savannah Morning News: "High tech turtles reveal how boats injure loggerheads," about DNR study with Georgia Tech Savannah probing boat strikes on test sea turtle shells. (Aug. 18)
Savannah Morning News: "Tybee turtles hatch," about island's second sea turtle nest hatching. (Aug. 15)
Frogs Are Green (blog): Brief on Williams Bluffs gopher frog project from the Early County News. (July 29)

Sept. 19: International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Sept. 22-23: Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources committee meetings (Sept. 22), monthly meeting (Sept. 23), DNR board room, Atlanta.
Sept. 24-25: Georgia Conservancy's Protect the Flint cookout/campout, Gerald I. Lawhorn Scouting Base, Griffin.
Sept. 26: Important Bird Areas volunteer day focused on red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees at Piedmont NWR. Meet at 9 a.m. at NWR visitor center.
Sept. 26: Go for Free, Georgia, free fishing on all public waters, free admission to state parks/historic sites, free kids' fishing events and Outdoor Adventure days. Coincides with National Hunting and Fishing Day.
Oct. 3: CoastFest 2009, Coastal Resources Division headquarters, Brunswick.
Oct. 7-8: Fostering Sustainable Behavior workshop (introductory) Oct. 7, (advanced) Oct. 8, Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah.
Oct. 8-12: Seventh annual Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival, Jekyll Island.
Oct. 30: 13th annual Georgia Outdoor Classroom Symposium, Chase Street Elementary, Athens.
Nov. 1-4: Annual Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies conference, Atlanta.
Nov. 5
: Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council symposium "Meeting the challenges of invasive non-native plants," State Botanical Garden, Athens.
Dec. 5: Right Whale Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sea Walk Pavilion, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
Submit events.

Photo credits (from top):
* (Masthead) A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling crawls for the surf on Ossabaw Island this summer. Stephanie Kern
* Wood frog at Wharton Conservation Center. Betsie Rothermel/Archbold Biological Station
* Betsie Rothermel, left, and research assistant Emilie Travis surveying salamanders at Wharton Conservation Center. Betsie Rothermel
* Red salamander. Betsie Rothermel
* Climbing buckthorn. Pete Pattavina/USFWS
* Carolina chickadee enjoying birdbath and spray. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
* Boat-tailed grackle drinking from faucet. Todd Schneider/Ga. DNR
* Bats roosting on chimney. Jim Ozier/Ga. DNR
* Tim Keyes and Matt Elliott measure water tupelo at Rayonier tract. James Holland
* Subadult red-tailed hawk at SunTrust Plaza. Peter Nhep

Georgia Wild
volume 2, issue 9

Georgia Wild is produced by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and focused on conserving nongame species, those not legally trapped, fished for or hunted. The newsletter is delivered free to subscribers. Subscribe or see previous issues here.

Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section conserves and protects Georgia's diversity of native animals and plants and their habitats through research, management and education. The section depends for funding on grants, donations and fundraisers such as nongame license plate sales, the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff and Weekend for Wildlife. Call (770) 761-3035 for details on direct donations. The nongame plates -- the bald eagle and ruby-throated hummingbird -- are available for a one-time $25 fee at all county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registration forms or through online renewal. Also, check here for information on TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section.

Looking back
Links to three previous issues.

June 2009
July 2009
August 2009

Other archives found here.
wood frog image

Mystery in the mountains

Wood frog die-offs add twist to study
of amphibians at Towns conservation site
   Two years of sampling frogs and salamanders deep in the Blue Ridge is raising concern about an infectious disease. The surprise: It’s not the disease caused by chytrid, a fungus devastating amphibians worldwide.
   Instead, the monitoring program led by researcher Betsie Rothermel has documented local die-offs of wood frogs blamed on Ranavirus, a group of viruses that can infect amphibians, reptiles and fish.
   “Although some lab results are still pending, it looks like Ranavirus is the emerging disease of greatest concern at our study site,” said Rothermel (at left, below), who works with Archbold Biological Station in Florida.
Images of researchers at Wharton Center.   The find has added to an already wide-ranging project that is assessing disease impacts on aquatic-breeding amphibians in the Blue Ridge, and developing methods and collecting data for tracking the region’s lungless, or plethodontid, salamander populations. The work is based at the Georgia Wildlife Federation’s Wharton Conservation Center, 130 wooded acres on the Tallulah River headwaters in Towns County. Sampling for 2009 wrapped up this month.
   Chytrid remains a focus. Yet sampling of a small pond near the former home of the late conservationist Charles Wharton revealed nearly 100 percent mortality of wood frog tadpoles from Ranavirus in 2008 and again this spring, according to John Jensen, a senior Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologist. “We’re finding animals infected with chytrid and Ranavirus but it seems … Ranavirus is responsible for most of the mortality we have observed,” Jensen said.
   More study is needed to see if other area ponds are experiencing die-offs of these secretive frogs. Rothermel said there also have been Ranavirus outbreaks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
   An amphibian crew directed by research assistant Emilie Travis (at right, above) began sampling and marking terrestrial salamanders at night this summer. Daytime surveys of stream salamanders ramp up next year, along with the involvement of citizen scientists.
Image of red salamander.   Rothermel said it’s possible some plethodontid salamanders are infected. If so, the question is the same as with wood frogs: What does this mean?
   The project could also help lay the foundation for what Rothermel considers a need in the Southern Appalachians: a network of long-term amphibian monitoring sites. Amphibians are widespread and environmentally sensitive.
   “Significant changes in abundance or distribution of these species would indicate widespread problems … in our forested ecosystems,” Rothermel said.
   Partners in the State Wildlife Action Plan project include Atlanta Botanical Garden, Zoo Atlanta, the University of Georgia, the Georgia Wildlife Federation and the Wildlife Resources Division.
  • Looking ahead: Jerry McCollum, Wildlife Federation president and chief executive officer, hopes that documenting the Wharton Center’s natural diversity will in the long-term establish that property as a helpful index to research other sites.
  • Salamanders galore: An unrelated study estimated the density of black-bellied salamanders in 2.5 acres along a Southern Appalachian headwater stream at 11,294 salamanders. That’s more than 218 pounds!
  • Georgia No. 1 in sallies and amphibians (slipping past Tennessee and North Carolina, respectively). Read more in the August 2009 Georgia Wild.

Out my backdoor
For the birds: Just add water
By Terry W. Johnson
   You undoubtedly know that a dependable water source is one of the easiest ways to attract birds to your backyard. Shallow birdbaths are most often used. They are inexpensive, easy to maintain and effective. What you may not realize is that, believe it or not, you can increase the number and variety of birds visiting your birdbath with devices that move water.
Image of chickadee in the birdbath.   For reasons not fully understood, the combination of the sound and sight of moving water acts as a bird magnet.
   You can achieve the effect by punching a small hole in a bucket or 2-liter bottle, filling the container with water and hanging it above a birdbath. The drops ripple the birdbath’s surface and create a methodical dripping sound. You can also place a shallow pan beneath a slowly dripping faucet or hang a hose over a limb by the birdbath. Running a small recirculating pump into the birdbath also works.
   My favorite water-mover, however, is the mister. Misters release a fine spray of water. They seem to work best in spots where the mist bathes nearby foliage. The water that collects on the leaves and drips into a birdbath is particularly irresistible to migrating warblers. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also particularly fond of misters.
   The key is finding one that emits an extremely fine mist. Most made for home irrigation systems aren’t fine enough; they use far too much water. The best misters are designed for bird use and are usually available at stores specializing in birding supplies.
   The neatest device designed to attract birds to the sight and sound of running water is the Water Wiggler. This battery-powered gizmo sits in the middle of a birdbath on four plastic legs and creates ripples by rapidly vibrating. Some models even come with a recording of the sound of moving water. A switch allows you to control the volume.
 Image of grackle drinking.  I must admit I haven’t tried one of these gadgets. If you have, let me know how it worked for you.
  Water-moving devices seem to work best during the spring and fall songbird migrations. Since the fall migration has already begun, if you decide to use a water-mover, move fast or you will miss the opportunity to attract a host of migrants as they head toward their wintering grounds outside the United States.
   Once you have installed a mister or other water-moving device, keep a field guide and binoculars near a window overlooking the birdbath. The new water feature will help attract birds you may have never seen in your backyard. Migrants such as thrushes, vireos and warblers that once flew over your yard might very well drop in for a bath and drink. Also, don’t be surprised if Carolina chickadees, cardinals, northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, chipping sparrows and other permanent residents visit your birdbath more often.
   Regardless of which device you use, don’t forget to keep your birdbath clean. Dirty water can be every bit as dangerous to birds as dirty feeders. Keeping a birdbath clean is a paltry price to pay for the pleasure you receive watching the parade of fascinating birds visiting the oasis you have created just outside your backdoor.
   Read Terry's full column on water for birds!

Terry Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with the Wildlife Resources Division, a noted backyard wildlife writer and expert, and executive director of TERN, the friends group for Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section.

Bad-news bats?
They don't have to be; key is keeping them 'out'
   Recent stories of bats clustering in houses and other buildings can fuel fears and myths about bats, while also raising valid issues. Yet, in most cases a few steps can keep bats outdoors, where they belong.
    One-way doors that allow bats out but not back in can be used to rid a structure of bats. The openings should then be sealed. Most do-it-yourself exclusions are relatively easy and inexpensive. Just don't use them between May 1 and Aug. 15, when young that cannot fly may be trapped inside.
    Ideally, an alternate roost structure should be installed nearby when evicting bats (more eviction and roost how-to details here).
    For extensive problems such as evictions involving scores of bats or large guano accumulations, seek technical advice. Nongame Conservation Section biologist Trina Morris advised getting estimates from several wildlife control companies licensed with the DNR. Make sure the services offered are the same when comparing prices.
Image of bats on chimney.    Bats sometimes pose health issues. Like many other mammals, they can contract rabies and spread the disease through biting. Accumulations of droppings, or guano, sometimes harbor a fungus with spores that – if inhaled in concentrated amounts – can cause a lung infection known as histoplasmosis.
    Bats also face problems: loss of roosting and foraging habitat, pollution and insecticide use that diminishes insect populations, and white-nose syndrome, a mysterious affliction causing mass die-offs of cave bats in the northeastern U.S. (The syndrome has not been documented in Georgia.)
    Georgia’s 16 bat species are state-protected, as is most native wildlife in the state; however, only the gray and Indiana bat are federally protected. Four other species rate special conservation concern because of threats to their populations. These do not include the species most often found in Georgia buildings -- big brown, free-tailed and evening bats.
    But all bats provide practical and ecological benefits, Nongame Program Manager Jim Ozier said. Small insectivorous bats like the ones found in Georgia can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects an hour.
    “Bats have an important role to play,” Ozier said.
    It’s a role that must be considered when putting bats in their (natural) place. Read more.
  • FYI: See October’s Georgia Wild for a wrap on the interns’ summer of searching for bats.

The birding camp that could
  Teens who missed the first Camp TALON might want to ignore this list of highlights:
   An up-close encounter with a vibrant wood stork rookery, The dazzling sight of flocks of roseate spoonbills, black-bellied whistling ducks and white and glossy ibis swirling over an Altamaha marsh. A peek into an active red-cockaded woodpecker nest. The opportunity to hold a Bachman’s sparrow at Fort Stewart. Birding on Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. A demonstration with a painted bunting on how to age, sex, measure and a band birds at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Nightly instruction exploring everything from the birds’ ecological value to bird photography. Student bird ID challenges, plus prizes including field guides and binoculars.
   Camp TALON, an idea first kicked around in early 2008 by Wildlife Resources, Atlanta Audubon Society and the Georgia Ornithological Society, took 10 teens along the Georgia coast for six days of birding and biology this summer ("Teen camp geared for birders," Georgia's Young Birder Winter/Spring 2009).
   This camp not only fledged, it soared, thanks to the support of DNR, AAA, GOS and TERN.
   Want to be a part of the 2010 highlights? Here’s a contact. Also read more about the camp's origins and premiere.
  • One of Camp TALON's organizers, Nongame Conservation biologist Tim Keyes, earned the GOS’ annual Earle Greene Memorial Award (PDF) for his work with birds and education.

   The gopher tortoise
east of the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers in Alabama will be reviewed for possible listing as a federally endangered or threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the review following a petition to protect the tortoise in the eastern part of its range. The service listed gopher tortoises as threatened in the western section in 1987. Fish and Wildlife referred to the analysis as “the first step in a long process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available.” Georgia lists the gopher tortoise, it's state reptile, as threatened. News coverage.
   Five Georgia falconers have been picked for permits allowing each to capture a juvenile peregrine falcon on the Georgia coast Sept. 20-Oct. 20. The state Board of Natural Resources approved regulations changes last month for the take of five migrating peregrines, a plan that highlighted the peregrine’s recovery and drew seven applicants.
camera clip artWatch: Speed diving
with a peregrine

   Trapping peregrines for falconry might be allowed in Florida next year. The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has approved a draft rule authorizing the take, legal this year in five East Coast states.
   The state of American shad is prompting proposed changes to a regional management plan that could close or further restrict commercial and recreational shad fishing. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will hold one of its public hearings on the draft amendment Sept. 24 in Midway.
   Here’s a good excuse to get out: On Sept. 26, DNR will waive the $5 admission fee at state parks and historic sites, nix the need for a fishing license on public waters, and offer free kids’ fishing events and Outdoor Adventure days. The special Saturday is being pitched as a “go for free” day.
Image of large water tupelo.  
More big tree news from the Rayonier Forest Resources tract in Long and McIntosh counties: One cypress (see it here) measures 44 feet, 5 inches in circumference, bumping the site’s previously discovered champ by more than a foot ("Massive trees, rare species," August 2009). Pictured above, Nongame Conservation Section’s Tim Keyes, left, and Matt Elliott “tape” a water tupelo at a mere 31 feet in circumference.
   For those keeping count, Cumberland and Blackbeard islands are No. 1 and 2 in sea turtle nest totals this summer. Cumberland had a commanding lead with 251 compared to Blackbeard’s 141 as of Sept. 16, www.seaturtle.org shows.
   The largest cohort of whooping cranes managed by Operation Migration is in training for this fall’s ultralight-led flight south. The group of highly endangered birds numbers 22.
camera clip artWhoopers in flight
with Operation Migration
   Monarchs Across Georgia is organizing its 2010 trips to monarch wintering sites in Mexico, set for Feb. 6-13 and 13-20. Educators can apply before Oct. 15 for one of two $1,000 scholarships.
    According to a new report on camping, car and backyard camping increased 7.4 percent from 2007 to 2008 and a seven-state block including Georgia ranked second in participants (16.9 percent) only to the Pacific region (18.9 percent). Speaking of the 33.7 million Americans who camped last year, Christine Fanning of report co-sponsor The Outdoor Foundation said, “In today's economy, people are returning to simpler lifestyles – the ‘less is more.’”
   The Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council’s annual meeting is a Nov. 5 symposium on “meeting the challenges” of invasive non-native plants. The symposium will be held at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.
   A video game that steers kids outdoors? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says its new online game Neighborhood Explorers meets the target audience where it is – on the computer – provides a safe place to explore nature and encourages youth to try the real thing.
   Read right whale updates large and small in the latest issue of Right Whale News. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium publishes the newsletter quarterly.
   Quotable: “It's natural to have a spike in the population of a nonnative species, and I think right now we're seeing the explosive stage (for Burmese pythons in Florida). As we continue to implement control measures, our large native species will figure out what to do eventually; I am hopeful once that happens that Florida's native wildlife will take control.”
-- Tim Breault of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission talking about the future of pythons in the state.

Parting shot
Image of young red-tailed hawk.This young red-tailed hawk is dining on a bird at SunTrust Plaza in Atlanta, a unique sight photographed by Peter Nhep of Riverdale. Send us your best urban wildlife shot and we'll consider posting it under our Wild about Wildlife sections on Flickr and Facebook!

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