bioephemera

I am so pissed off right now

i-64502c15c02cb470e7c75152e369dc23-mollie's_pack.jpg

NPS Photo/Dan Stahler

This fall, Montana opened a sport hunting season – on wolves. Yeah – the same wolves that wildlife biologists have been working so hard (and spending lots of federal money) to successfully reintroduce to restore the Yellowstone ecosystem. So what happened? It really isn’t that surprising: hunters have already killed nine wolves in the wilderness area near Yellowstone’s northern border – including both the radio-collared alpha and beta females of Yellowstone Park’s Cottonwood wolf pack. Uh. . . oops.

And what do Montana authorities have to say about this?

“Members of the commission and state wildlife managers have acknowledged a mistake in the decision to open early season hunting next to Yellowstone.They characterized it as a learning experience. (source)”

A learning experience. Really.


I’m not completely against hunting. I grew up in a rural area. My dad was a hunter. I grew up eating hunted meat. And I have no problem with the idea of hunting for meat, as long as it’s responsible. Hunting can help manage species like deer or elk, who have gotten unhealthily overabundant due to lack of predators and too much food in suburban areas.

I don’t like pure sport hunting – killing an animal that you’re not going to eat or otherwise use just seems distasteful to me. But I don’t blame the hunters for what happened in Montana. The state told them they could “harvest” wolves, so they did. True, any hunter with a decent sight should have seen the radio collars, and my dad would never have killed a radio-collared animal. But even so, it’s not the hunters’ fault the people in charge of Montana wildlife management appear, generously, to be flipping idiots.

Let’s get something clear: these wolves were not killed on or near ranchland. They were not killed to protect cattle from predation. They were killed because you can’t expect wild animals to know where Yellowstone Park (safe) borders Montana wilderness land (unsafe). But hunters understand borders, and hunters know the best place to bag a wolf is right outside the park. Why does this surprise anyone?

Yet somehow it does:

That’s not what FWP had envisioned. The agency has viewed the hunt, in part, as a way to remove the predators from the front country where they’re more likely to interact with or kill livestock. If only wolves in the backcountry are killed, FWP isn’t meeting part of its objective.

“When we started out on the whole hunting season, we would’ve been the first to say we don’t know how this is going to work,” Sime said.

She said wildlife managers want to encourage wolves to remain in the backcountry, away from potential conflicts with livestock.

“So what we’re learning is that maybe we need to rethink these backcountry hunts and see if we can fine-tune that.” (source)

Unfortunately, with its senior females dead, and at least two more members whose identity is uncertain (they apparently weren’t radio-tagged) the Cottonwood wolf pack is in serious trouble. Keep in mind the average wolf pack is between 4-7 individuals, so that’s basically a whole pack dead in one abortive hunting season. Conservationists are seething. The biologists who actually work with these wolves are no doubt heartbroken. But more to the point, these killings are utterly inefficient and wasteful, don’t do anything to protect cattle, and only heighten tensions in an already hostile legal, cultural, and political conflict over wolf conservation.

We need to figure out what our priorities are. If we want, as a nation, to have any authentic parks like Yellowstone where traditional ecosystems are still in place – for both study and enjoyment – then we need everyone on the same page. On one side of an invisible border, Yellowstone’s wolves are celebrities, individuals, and valuable tourist draws (for watchers of Bob Landis’ National Geographic series Return of the Wolf, Cottonwood’s alpha female 527F was the daughter of 42F, the “Cinderella wolf”). On the other side of that border, they’re vermin and shooting targets. It sure seems to me that state and federal wildlife management officials ought to be doing what they can to buffer these radically disparate attitudes towards wolves. Instead, Ken Salazar handed off wolf management to Montana. And as the Montana wolf hunt shows, state officials are doing nothing to improve the situation. No wonder hunters, ranchers, and conservationists are as far apart as they’ve ever been on this issue.

Anyone have any constructive ideas on how to actually fix this? Cause I sure don’t.

Comments

  1. #1 mdvlist
    October 17, 2009

    Man, that just wrecked my lunch. It’s situations like this that make us comparatively reserved people feel like releasing our inner extremist.

  2. #2 JennMT
    October 17, 2009

    Thank you for this. I live less than a mile from the Western border of Yellowstone and I am saddened by the recent develops in this wildlife success story. The wolves are being subjected to some of worst, most ignorant propaganda in this area, and the outright lies are believed by far too many people who do not understand natural balance.

    Wolves (which I have helped track and study for over 10 years in YNP) are not the supernatural killing machines or some sort of ethereal spirit totem that people try to make them, they are merely animals. A vital part of our ecosystem, ruthless, highly intelligent, very social, caring to its young and tremendously fascinating to watch, but ONLY an animal.

    They have become a political hotpoint and a boogey man for too many people. But they are NOT deserving of what is happening to them now. They were only just taken off the endangered list and their breeding and social structures are too tenuous to absorb this slaughter. Their numbers (despite ridiculous claims to the contrary) are beginning to stabilize. They do an excellent job of controlling their own numbers by being fiercley territorial. Humans can absolutely stay out of this one.

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    October 17, 2009

    This is absolutely horrifying. How can people be so fucking stupid??

  4. #4 Tsu Dho Nimh
    October 17, 2009

    One reason the “sport hunters” don’t like wolves is because constant pressure from the wolf pack all year makes the deer and elk extremely vigilant.

    Without year-round hunting pressure, the first few days of hunting season are really easy for the hunters. The elk are fat, dumb and happy which quickly turns into fat, dead and tasty.

    In an area with wolves, you have to really HUNT! That means learning the territory, learning the prey’s habits, and learning to sneak up on them.

  5. #5 John
    October 17, 2009

    What happened was awful and entirely predictable. The state shouldn’t open a hunting season on animals if it doesn’t want some of them to be killed. If the point of the hunts is to protect livestock, then it should be limited to wolves that actually threaten livestock, and hunters should have to show some evidence of a real threat. The state could also have provided more of the buffer for the Yellowstone wolf packs by restricting the hunts from the counties closest to the park.

    I think the federal government shares some of the blame for delisting the wolves too soon in Montana and Idaho.

  6. #6 Jared
    October 17, 2009

    I cannot even begin to explain my distaste for this action, both as a biologist and avid hunter (deer mostly, but the occasional squirrel and alligator). I understand hunting, trapping, or fishing for the following animals:

    deer species, pigs, peccary, rabbits, squirrels, some frogs, turtles, crocodilians, Perciformes, Clupeiformes, Siluriformes, and Cypriniformes.

    I do not understand trapping or hunting most species of feliforms or caniforms as the meat is not really all that good (even the “best” one, seal, is rubbery and bland).

    I am curious as to how people find shooting an animal “sporting.” Perhaps we can allow sport hunting with knives only. That might make it a bit more of a “sport.”

  7. #7 Hexcentric
    October 17, 2009

    This story typifies America and its attitude not just to wolves or wildlife but to the rest of the world. As a British serviceman I’m as pro American as they come. Unfortunately you have a greater proportion of assholes with power, be that firepower, political or economic power who really haven’t got a clue outside of their own area of self interest. America needs to wake up and quickly before the rest of the world loses patience. This seems as good a place to start as anyother

  8. #8 Mylasticus
    October 17, 2009

    Yeah, it sucks when you see animals killed for no good, apparent, reason. The thing I would offer, and you probably won’t like it, but a badly planned season is not an eternal failure. What matters is the ongoing viability of the species, at least to my way of thinking.
    What can be done to make it better? First, look at what happened with this season and apply it to better outcomes next year. Second, gather data next year and further refine the process to get an even better, or at least predicted, outcome.
    From the article, it looks like the wildlife officials didn’t anticipate the results of what would happen if they opened a hunt the way they did. Unexpected outcomes always look obvious in hindsight. But here, oddly, I think a lesson from Blizzard Entertainment serves well. Loosely, “It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how good a programmer, you can’t know how things will turn out until a million people have tested it.” Even in such a tightly controlled environment as World of Warcraft, the unexpected has regularly appeared much to their consternation. How much more true will that be for the real world?
    I’m willing to cut some slack, yes, even at the expense of these wolves lives, for these folks as they continue to improve the state’s posture on this subject.
    For now, I think it’s worth remembering that where one wolf found her way in to an area that would support a pack, another will, too. Who knows? Maybe in the years to come Yellowstone visitors will be able to watch wolf packs bring down prey.
    (for the record, I check your blog at least a couple of times a week. So, for all the links to art work that I would never have found were you not to have posted, Thank you!)

  9. #9 Jessica Palmer
    October 17, 2009

    Thanks, Mylasticus.

    My position is that if Montana wanted to be cautious, they could have done so very easily: they could have limited the hunt to areas farther away from Yellowstone – Montana is a very big state indeed. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that. In the articles I’ve seen, they seem to be arguing that they didn’t anticipate the Yellowstone wolves would be so easily killed by hunters. However, as someone who grew up around hunters, ranchers, farmers, and wildlife, this strikes me as a bizarre assertion. Why exactly would we expect that animals that haven’t been hunted before, in an area where they have never encountered hunters, would be hard to shoot? Or that hunters wouldn’t go straight to the area near Yellowstone to have the best shot (pun intended)?

    You’re right that Montana’s wildlife officials can learn from this mistake. But it isn’t like beta-testing a new app on your iPhone, with no real-world damage: it’s more like letting your teenager crash the family car into the neighbor’s garage! The teenager can learn from their mistake, sure, but there are more efficient, less destructive ways to assess your kid’s driving skills than simply handing over your keys. Now, you’re responsible for fixing the damage to the car, and the garage, AND getting your neighbor to trust your kid again – and you still have to get the kid a license eventually. I think that’s a bad deal all around.

    Hexcentric, every country has its proportion of assholes. I can’t tell you how tired I am of people making assumptions about me because I’m American. You do know I’m American, right? Sigh.

  10. #10 Leilah Thiel
    October 17, 2009

    Absolutely devastating. I’ve sent my thoughts off to Montana FW… this was an unbelievably stupid move.

  11. #11 Todd
    October 17, 2009

    Since when are the Elk and Deer populations considered over abundant?

    The wolves were killed to control their population, with has increased way more then biologist’s ever thought. So now they are creating a huge impact on Elk and Deer herds.

    It was treehuggers that got them re-introduced, with little or no idea how to control populations when they got above management numbers. Those Yellowstone wolves have moved all the way into Oregon, and other surrounding states.

    What would you suggest when there are no Deer and Elk and only wolves running around western states!

  12. #12 Carl Buell
    October 17, 2009

    I’m an American also, and I grew up around farmers, ranchers and hunters, but Hexcentric is absolutely correct as far as I’m concerned… and our assholes have guns.

  13. #13 Jessica Palmer
    October 17, 2009

    Todd, with all due respect: deer and elk are indeed still overly abundant in many areas of the west. There aren’t anywhere near enough wolves yet to dent those populations. And wolves were killed off originally not to help the deer and elk, but to protect ranchers’ stock.

    Believe it or not, wolves, deer, and elk all managed to survive and – dare I say – EVOLVE together as a functioning ecosystem precisely because predators like wolves don’t eat all the prey to extinction. As far as I know, humans are the only species that drives its prey — and its competition — to extinction. As you’re apparently suggesting we do to wolves.

  14. #14 Will TS
    October 17, 2009

    Don’t worry, Todd. Some yahoos in Oregon have already killed all the wolves that disbursed that far.

    And wolves aren’t going to displace deer and elk. Wolves depend on deer and elk. Wolf populations cycle with ungulate populations. Maybe you missed Bio 101 that day.

  15. #15 JThompson
    October 18, 2009

    @Todd: There may well be a smaller population of deer and elk than we’d like. Of course that couldn’t have anything to do with people hunting them.
    Don’t give me that bag limit crap either. I’m from a state where hunting is big business, and I’ve seen 3 or 4 pickup beds filled with deer. Yet every time there’s a dip in the deer population (Read: Hunters can’t kill as many as they’d like.) people start screaming that it’s time to wipe out the coyotes.

  16. #16 Miriam Sternagle
    October 18, 2009

    Montana FW knew exactly what they were doing. It wouldn’t surprise me if those hunters went into Yellowstone, killed the wolves and dragged them over the boundary…. I was livid when I heard about this and fired off yet another email to Obama… who is worse than Bush. Ken Salazar got in as Interior Secretary and my favor for Obama went out the window. I only voted for him to keep Wildlife Killer Palin out of the political picture. I don’t like hunters anyway. Where I grew up there were many confrontations between property owners w/posted land and hunters who thought they should be able to go anywhere. Deesr were jack-lighted, bears poached, etc. The wildlife officials are in the business of killing wildlife and not preserving it and I wish the public would wake up to that fact. These agencies are great poisoners, too, remember, and Salazar is on the fast track to reinstate poisoning programs all over public lands… Ranchers shouldn’t be alllowed to graze their sheep/cattle on public lands. Remember, folks, these are our lands, not fat-ass Salazar’s.

  17. #17 ENT-TT
    October 18, 2009

    Humans. Here, read things, point-counterpoint:

    http://westinstenv.org/wildpeop/2009/06/18/elk-population-plunges-in-montana/
    (Read comments. Haha! Stupid monkeys.) And…
    http://westinstenv.org/wp-content/MFWP_Wolves_Elk_2009.pdf
    vs.
    http://www.homepage.montana.edu/~rgarrott/wolfungulate/index.htm
    And (old)…
    http://fwp.mt.gov/mtoutdoors/HTML/articles/2002/wolvesvselk.htm

    Noted: “There’s a great deal of uncertainty right now,” says Kurt Alt, a FWP biologist at Bozeman, the epicenter of a growing controversy over wolves and elk. “This is the first time biologists in Montana have had to really deal with a situation like this, where basically wolves have been dumped in our lap. Right now there just isn’t enough data on wolves and elk for us to make the best possible management decisions.”

    Rationale: “Too many” creatures? Kill them. Why – Why Not? This is clearly a multi-dimensional issue. On one hand, you can help stabilize an exploding population by harvesting it. True. You can also help stabilize an exploding population by NOT harvesting it, since it has (and will again) reach equilibrium without the muddling of apes. I suspect the issue here is that human people are too aware of their own self-worth, and, quite logically, elevate their sense of self-importance in accordance with their immediate environment. They always have, and always will. If you are a human that lives near wolves, elk, etc, this will impact you directly in ways it would not impact, say, myself. My sense of self-importance has to do more with other humans in early morning rush-hour than with non-humans. The only thing I can truly take from all this ram-noggin-knocking is rather obvious: If you rationalize your right to hunt certain animals because there are more of them now, then this should apply across the board, lest ye be a flaming hypocrite. Hmm, what other animals seem to have expanded beyond their natural support base? Pigeons, certainly. Also, humans. “But…!” I hear you stammer, “we are people, we have the guns, we make the rules.” Yes, you do. We ALL do. Might I suggest that soon, very soon, you may not sit atop you perch uncontested? For as a wise man once said, “My, aren’t you made of meat!” If you are against the wolves, you anger those who support them. If you support wolves, you anger those who are against them. Why not just hunt each other? You are vastly over-populated, and in some cases, much better sport than even a wolf (let alone a tagged, emasculated, human-tainted she-wolf). The MFW execs may not be such a challenge, but the other crazies on both sides will more than make up for that. When all is said and done, you probably taste like chicken.

  18. #18 JourneyWon
    October 18, 2009

    The places of their passing are quiet now. I mourn for the howls that will not be heard.

    I guess we are the smart ones. We all knew this was going to happend. We all new that when they opened this up that innocent wolves would die. The Cottonwolf Wolf Pack had done nothing wrong only to make millions of people smile. They were not the bad wolves they didn’t kill cows, sheep and other livestock they stayed in their territory and behaved. We knew this was going to bring in blood thirsty hunters who actually have nothing to do with the reason they started the hunt. Wasn’t it suppose to be Ranchers who were having problems with the bad wolves. Why would you set the hunt in Yellowstone? They need to fire this so call fish and game. They screwed up and they know it. They just had a whole wolf pack wiped out that did absolutely nothing but survive as they are suppose to. The hunt should have been directed only in those place that were having with problem wolves. This is an outrage on our Wildlife. This is murder to our Wildlife. I wouldn’t step foot now in yellowstone if you paid me. I wouldn’t support their stupid state for nothing. They made lots and lots of money on wolf tags. I hope they are happy now.

    “Wilderness without wildlife is just scenery.” –Lois Crisler

  19. #19 Anon
    October 18, 2009

    The borders of Yellowstone (and probably many other parks) were drawn before we knew what the natural ecosystem “borders” were. If the park cannot be extended, perhaps partial protection can be extended to some bordering areas (I know some are privately owned, including cult church-owned acreage, but we can already prohibit hunting on, say, my own property, due to proximity to others) with attention paid to the natural borders which define the wolf pack’s territory.

  20. #20 Onkel Bob
    October 18, 2009

    It’s pile on Todd day!!! Crikey, Todd spend any time in the field? The overpopulation of deer has seriously transformed the west. Deer destroy riparian zones by munching down young willow and beech. Such damaged areas become hot zones of invasive species. And if you think reintroduced wolves present the biggest problem, think again. Ask the farmers and agriculture corporations whether feral pigs in the central valley of California are a problem. (Hint think spinach – e. coli – and losing tens of millions of dollars!)
    My problem with hunting is the absolute reverse evolutionary pressure it exerts. Instead of the young, old, and weak being culled by natural forces, the strong and able are the targets. When we (homo sapiens) hunted for food, we didn’t harvest the difficult ones, we went after the easy prey. On top of that who wants old, tough, and stringy – I want that baby elk that still has some fat and tender meat.
    Of course there’s always these Wunderkind. Unfortunately, I can’t find the link to the Yahoo who filmed himself poaching in Grand Teton and Yellowstone. He was a renowned bow hunter and guide who posted pictures that could only have been taken inside the parks. As a result, he was jailed and received lifetime ban from entering all parks and from obtaining a hunting license.

  21. #21 Dan S.
    October 18, 2009

    A Defenders of Wildlife petition for this: https://secure.defenders.org/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=UserAction&id=1586

    Mylasticus – well, let’s hope so. What worries me – while I don’t know anything about the relevant fields, let alone Montana’s wildlife mgmt. folks – is that this does sound like a no-brainer, one more absolutely predictable disaster “nobody could have predicted”. If that’s the case, there’s not much reason to think that an agency that could carelessly plow ahead like that is really going to bother to gather data and refine their policies, at least without serious and continued public outcry. If it was a genuine blunder, that’s another matter, but . . . On one hand, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission has suspended wolf hunting in that specific area for the rest of the season; on the other hand, they’re maintaining the statewide quota of 75 which unnamed biologists are quoted as describing as well within sustainability. (I have no idea one way or other) (from the “(source)” link in the OP)

  22. #22 Hungry Hyaena
    October 18, 2009

    Jessica acknowledged in her post that hunters are a varied bunch. I’d like to second her distinction-making and stress the remarks made by Jared (#6). If you desire only a trophy mount, you’re not an ethical hunter. Please do not condemn the many conscientious and philosophical hunters for the gross sins and ugliness of the majority.

    And, lest I dismiss even the “yahoos” without giving them their due, we should consider that American hunters and fishermen annually spend almost $2 billion supporting non-profit conservation organizations and federally funded wildlife, fisheries, and habitat programs. The lion’s share of this money comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, but $300 million is in donations. Non-profit groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, an organization whose membership is almost entirely comprised of hunters, led the successful effort to reestablish and bolster existing wild turkey populations in North America. And the federal monies fund a substantial percentage of park and refuge upkeep and management.

    Even if, like Miriam, you “don’t like hunters,” you should pause before you condemn them offhand.

  23. #23 Mylasticus
    October 18, 2009

    @Dan, While I do understand your point, I would offer this link:
    http://westinstenv.org/wildpeop/2009/07/08/montana-institutes-wolf-hunting-season/ as further evidence that this quick taking of wolves wasn’t expected, especially near Yellowstone. I say this even though I tend to agree that if 10,000 tags were sold for 75 animals one would think that number to be reached in a very short order. At most a 1 week season.
    I think that, (for the record I neither live nor work in Montana ;-), it was a very good thing they kept the quota as low as they did.
    Should there be a hunt next year, I’m thinking the game officials will significantly alter quotas in specific units, or maybe just close off certain areas altogether.

  24. #24 natural cynic
    October 18, 2009

    Why not just hunt each other? You are vastly over-populated, and in some cases, much better sport than even a wolf (let alone a tagged, emasculated, human-tainted she-wolf).

    I second ENT-ITs suggestion. Much more sporting if your prey is as well-armed as you.

    Another suggestion, [a very limited number of] snowmobile permits in Yellowstone will only be given to winners of a jousting competition.

  25. #25 IanW
    October 19, 2009

    Welcome to Planet human Jessica. Why is anyone surprised by this?

  26. #26 Jessica Palmer
    October 19, 2009

    Did I say I was surprised, IanW? I believe I said I was pissed off. There’s a difference.

  27. #27 ENT-TT
    October 19, 2009

    @Jessica and @Ian…
    Yes.
    Both apply. I would not be so upset if such things did not consistently come as a shock to my own personal definition of “common sense”. Like Jessica, I’m pissed, but I’m pissed because I cannot help but be surprised by this, no matter how many times it happens. Yet, despite my anger (which is reserved in whole for the sake of those who cannot speak to deaf ears), I am concerned. How much damage are we doing, collectively, by making this issue personal between both sides? The ranchers live in their world. The hunters live in their world. We live in ours. Just because we share an overlap doesn’t mean our contextual worlds are the same. I cannot speak for ranchers or hunters. I have not had their problems. For me to say that they are “wrong” would be fallacious. I know, as you do, that the careless and useless murder of another being is wrong. I feel for the wolves, as I would not feel for elk… elk are food, lest they escape. Wolves only eat them to survive, lest they die. Ranchers protect their land, lest they die. Hunters… hunters do something else. Some might die without their game, but those days are mostly past. Yet when ranchers rage their opinion, it incenses us, and when hunters rage their opinion, it incenses us. We know why. And yet when we rage our opinion, it would be foolish to think that we are not making this personal, any less than they are. Are their actions (and ours), making this conflict so much more controversial that we begin to argue out of spite? Certainly. I have, and I admit it, because like Jessica, I’m pissed. But if my actions and words against those I disagree with are infuriating them in turn (if only through my ignorance), how many more wolves may die, out of actions of spite? Are my words alone killing more innocents, simply by pissing off those who would kill them to spite our “side”? I think maybe so. We created the WF’s initially to watchdog these lands, so that poachers and the more greedy of hunters would not cause vast devastation. Yet now, our human politics and economics have become intermixed with multiple agendas, and marred by feelings, and the goal has been missed, trumped, and trashed. Ranchers should take on the responsibility of their own lands, protecting it as required, and hunters should, in my opinion, stay the hell out of the wild lands, and instead accept work on behalf of ranchers to protect their assets. Overpopulation is an excuse, and one that politics protects. Why waste that effort? Let nature takes its course where nature applies, and let humans who need to protect their own do so, but only on a case-by-case basis. If ranchers hired hunters to protect their land, overpopulation would not be a problem, and hunters could hunt. Humans could stay away from what is not theirs, and problems like this might well be avoided. Yet, something tells me (as Ian somberly agrees), that this pragmatism will not hold on Planet Human. We each want our own more than we want for others, and I do not think this will change. This upsets me almost as much as the senseless slaughter.

  28. #28 Hungry Hyaena
    October 19, 2009

    I’ll also add, Jessica, that although “wildlife biologists have been working so hard (and spending lots of federal money)” to restore grey wolf populations to ecologically healthy levels, wildlife biologists (presumably not the same ones!) were also party to the reopening of the wolf season. Why the difference of opinion? I suppose it’s akin to those scientists and doctors who green light suspect pharmaceuticals (i.e., it’s a response to pressure from political constituents and, as always, financial interests).

    Similarly, wildlife biologists working at the state and federal level continue to promote higher bag limits for duck species that should, in fact, see their bag limits reduced or the seasons closed. This is the flip side of the point I made in an earlier comment about the net positive conservation value of hunters and anglers; because of the large revenue provided by hunters, the state and federal regulators worry that reducing limits or closing certain species’ seasons will result in a drop in license sales, which in turn bleeds the support for the park and refuge system, and, finally, hits the “biocrats” (state or federally funded wildlife biologists) where they’re most sensitive, the paycheck.

  29. #29 Mike Griffiths
    October 24, 2009

    This is really sad.

    So what is our other option, create a giant wall around all of Yellowstone with tax payer’s dollars? I just wonder who the losers are that would actually want to kill a wolf miles away from any ranch. Can we have hunting season on them?

    Mike Griffiths

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