FWS Decides Not to List Joshua Tree and Other Species Under the ESA

On August 15, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a series of notices in the Federal Register announcing the agency’s 12-month and 90-day findings on petitions to list a number of species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Most prominently, the FWS declined to list two species commonly known as the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia and Yucca jaegeriana) ...

More than a year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, Services) published proposals to revise several Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementing regulations, the agencies have announced that the final versions of the rules are ready for publication in the Federal Register ...

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is systematically revising species recovery plans issued under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  On August 6, 2019, USFWS published three notices of availability announcing public comment periods on its draft revisions to 70 recovery plans covering 121 species across the United States ...

Settlement Eliminates 1,500 Acres of Designated Dusky Gopher Frog Critical Habitat

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) and a group of landowners recently settled long-running litigation regarding the Service’s designation of approximately 1,500 acres of private land as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa).  The Service designated the private land in Louisiana as critical habitat in 2012.  Weyerhaeuser Co. and local landowners sued the Service, arguing that designation of the private land where the frog could not currently survive was overreach ...

In its newly-released proposed recovery plan for the Desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has put into action its internal plan to add quantitative criteria to recovery plans.  The pupfish recovery plan, originally adopted in 1993, contained only qualitative criteria when adopted.  In its proposed revisions to the pupfish’s recovery plan, the Service adds quantitative criteria for whether the pupfish should be considered for delisting or when it has recovered, including the number of established populations that would make the ...

Environmental Groups Seek Protection for Mountain Lions in Southern California

The Center for Biological Diversity and Mountain Lion Foundation submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission (the Commission) to list mountain lions (Puma concolor) in southern and central California as threatened or endangered pursuant to the California Endangered Species Act.  The petition identifies habitat loss and fragmentation, due to roads and development, as significant threats to the survival of the local populations.

The petition acknowledges that there is no reliable estimate of mountain lion abundance in California, but includes estimates for ...

On June 12, 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) voted 3-1 that listing four subspecies of bumble bee may be warranted under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).​  The decision was made after the Xerces Society, Center for Food Safety, and Defenders of Wildlife filed a petition to list the Crotch bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini), Suckley cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi), and western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis occidentalis) as endangered species under CESA.

Presently, no insects are ...

On May 22, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal to list two intriguing North Carolina aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The FWS was spurred to act in part by a 2010 petition and subsequent litigation from environmental organizations to list over 400 aquatic species found in the southeastern United States. The two species the agency deems as needing protection in this proposed rule are the Carolina madtom (Noturus furiosus), a poisonous catfish, and the Neuse River waterdog (Necturus lewisi), a freshwater salamander.

The Carolina ...

On April 29, 2019, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-10-19 (EO) directing the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in consultation with the Department of Finance (collectively, the agencies), to prepare a 21st century water resilience portfolio to meet the needs of California’s communities, economy and environment in the face of water supply uncertainty, climate change and the state’s growing population.  The EO’s sweeping directive requires the agencies ...

On May 3, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposed rule to downlist the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) from endangered to threatened. The Service also proposed a rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to allow many routine activities to occur within the range of the species, even if they result in incidental take of the species, in light of the fact that such activities do not affect the overall viability of the American burying beetle.

The American burying beetle is a nocturnal species that has a one year ...

On April 23, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that environmental groups have standing to challenge the federal government’s killing of gray wolves in Idaho without conducting additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Western Watersheds Project et al. v. Grimm, No. 18-35075 (9th Cir. 2019).

Environmental groups brought an action against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (Wildlife Services), alleging that NEPA requires Wildlife Services to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and ...

Over the last few weeks, besides proposing to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species (which we covered here), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has made a few other moves related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On Monday, April 8, 2019, the Service published a final rule, removing one species from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species, adding 16 separate species to the list, and updating the existing entries for 17 more species.  Specifically, the Service added the following species to the ESA List: Gulf grouper ...

On March 28, 2019, a federal judge overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) rejection of a petition to delist an endangered karst invertebrate species, the Bone Cave harvestman (Texella reyeisi) (BCH), which is known to occur only in central Texas.

American Stewards of Liberty and others (Plaintiffs) had claimed that USFWS’ rejection of a 2014 petition to delist the BCH was arbitrary and capricious because, among other things, USFWS based its rejection on the petition’s supposed failure to provide BCH population trend data that was unavailable and is ...

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On March 27, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in Kisor  v. Wilkie (No. 18-15), focusing on whether Auer deference should be overruled.  While the dispute is not environmental in nature, this case has nonetheless attracted significant attention from the environmental community due to the potentially significant implications to environmental litigation.  Auer deference (or Seminole Rock deference) requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of its own ambiguous regulations.  Enforcement actions ...

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On March 15, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a proposed rule to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.  As we reported here, the Service announced its intention to issue the proposed rule earlier this month.  According to the Service, the species’ population has rebounded considerably since it was originally listed in 1978, when the population estimate was approximately 1,000 individuals.  Now, the Service estimates there is a Great Lakes meta-population with approximately 4,400 individuals, along with an ...

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Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt, recently announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will publish a proposed rule removing federal protections under the Endangered Species Act for the endangered gray wolf (Canis lupus).  Secretary Bernhardt announced the plan at the 84th North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference in Denver, Colorado.

The gray wolf was originally listed as endangered in March 1978 throughout the contiguous United States, except in Minnesota, where the Service classified the species as ...

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Posted in Delisting

On February 26, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to delist the Borax Lake chub (Gila boraxobius), a small fish that currently resides primarily in a single Oregon lake.  Currently listed as an endangered species, the proposed rule states that the best available scientific and commercial information "indicates that the threats to the Borax Lake chub have been eliminated or reduced to the point where the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act . . . ."  The Federal Register notice ...

On February 6, 2019, a federal judge upheld U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) 90-day finding that a petition to delist the endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Petition) did not present substantial information that delisting the warbler may be warranted (Negative 90-day Finding). In 2015,  various groups and individuals filed the Petition, which, among other things, alleged that because a 2015 study indicated that the golden-cheeked warbler and its habitat were far more abundant than the Service originally believed at the time of the bird’s listing in 1990, the bird ...

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Posted in Publications

In an article published online this week in BioScience, the American Institute of Biological Sciences' scholarly journal, Drs. Dennis Murphy and Paul Weiland contribute to the literature on independent scientific review, focusing on the review of federal agency determinations under the Endangered Species Act. They describe the types of decisions that can benefit from independent scientific review. They also describe past shortcomings in undertaking such reviews, relying on specific examples from past reviews. Identification of such shortcomings feeds into the principal ...

On January 31, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced plans to amend up to 182 Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery plans, which potentially cover over 305 animal and plant species, over the next year. These amendments will revise each recovery plan to include quantitative recovery criteria as part of the Department of the Interior’s Agency Priority Performance Goals. USFWS kicked off this 12-month push by releasing a notice of availability of 26 draft recovery plan amendments ...

On January 28, 2019, the Superior Court for San Diego County upheld the California Fish and Game Commission’s (Commission) 2015 decision to list the gray wolf (canis lupus) under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). (Cal. Cattlemen’s Assn. v. Cal. Fish & Game Com. (Super. Ct. San Diego County, 2019, No. 37-2017-00003866-CU-MC-CTL).)

CESA defines an endangered species as a native species or subspecies of bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile or plant which is in serious danger of becoming extinct throughout all, or a significant portion, of its range due to one or ...

As we previously reported, more than 150 organizations have requested that the Department of the Interior (DOI) extend the public comment period associated with DOI’s proposed changes to how it will process requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Proposed Regulations) by no less than 120 days due, in part, to the partial government shutdown.  Without referencing or responding to these multiple requests, DOI announced that it will extend the comment period for the Proposed Regulations by a single day. According to the announcement from DOI, the ...

The longest partial government shutdown in United States history is taking its toll on Endangered Species Act (ESA) policy initiatives championed by the Trump Administration, and is making ESA compliance and project completion significantly more difficult for a wide spectrum of industries. In July 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service published proposed changes to ESA implementing regulations relating to species listings, de-listings, critical habitat designations, and consultations under section 7 of the ESA. The ...

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The effects of the partial Federal government shutdown are being felt at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service"). The shutdown has virtually halted the Service's processing of pending rulemakings under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). As an example, while the comment period on the Service's proposed designation of 370 miles of critical habitat for the endangered candy darter (Etheostoma osburni) -- a freshwater fish found in portions of West Virginia and Virginia -- ran from November to January, the Service has posted only a handful of responsive comments online, with ...

On December 28, 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) published proposed changes to its rules governing how it processes requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provided a 30-day timeframe in which the public could submit comments to the DOI concerning those changes. The public review and comment period is currently scheduled to close on January 28, 2019. However, the partial government shutdown has caused several groups to question whether or not the public comment period should, in fact, close as scheduled. More than 1,200 comments have been ...

Posted in Conservation

The impacts of the federal government’s partial shutdown have been felt nationwide, as restricted operations and furloughs delay or otherwise complicate governmental processes. As an example, E&E News reports that conservation organizations’ efforts to formally protest proposed revisions to greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) conservation plans have been thwarted by alleged problems with the Department of Interior’s website, which restricted access to certain documents due to the partial government shutdown.

The deadline for filing protests to the ...

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Nossaman’s Environmental Practice attorneys will be off to a great start in 2019 presenting at many key events around the U.S. focused on endangered species and environmental issues.

On December 13, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado vacated an eagle take permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") authorizing a construction company to disturb a pair of nesting bald eagles.  Front Range Nesting Bald Eagle Studies v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service et al., No. 1:18-cv-00356.  The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act ("BGEPA"), prohibits the disturbance of bald eagles or golden eagles.  The Service's regulations define disturb to mean ...

On December, 10, 2018, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for writ of certiorari in Kisor  v. Wilkie (No. 18-15), which raises the issue of whether Auer deference should be overruled.  Auer deference (also known as Seminole Rock deference) requires courts to defer to an agency's reasonable interpretation of its own ambiguous regulations.  Auer deference is similar to Chevron deference, which requires courts to defer to an agency's reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutes.  As this blog has noted, agency deference has been in the spotlight recently ...

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has proposed (pdf) to designate approximately 12.28 acres of critical habitat for the Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale) in Pima County, Arizona.  The proposed critical habitat would be located entirely within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The Service previously issued a final rule listing the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in September 2017, finding that the Sonoyta mud turtle has been threatened by habitat loss and degradation due to surface water loss and riparian ...

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On November 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an area is eligible to be designated as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) only if the area is habitat for the relevant threatened or endangered species.  Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dkt. No. 17-71.  The Court vacated the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision, which held that the ESA has no habitability requirement, and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to consider the meaning of habitat under the ESA.  Additionally, the Court held that a decision by the U.S. Fish and ...

On November 21, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a final rule listing the candy darter (Estheostoma osburni) as endangered and proposing critical habitat for the species.  The candy darter is a small, freshwater fish species native to Virginia and West Virginia.  The Service’s announcement finalizes its proposed rule to list the candy darter, which was published on October 4, 2017, with one significant difference – the Service originally proposed to list the candy darter as threatened, but the final rule lists the candy darter as endangered.

The candy ...

The recent California wildfires have been devastating.  But it is during such times of devastation that we also get to see the good in people.  We see communities coming together, and support from around the State.  As reported by a number of news agencies, that support has extended to not just people, but also pets.  There are stories with pictures of police officers corralling pot belly pigs, horses being guided through smoke and flames, and dogs and cats being rescued by a variety of organizations.  However, it isn't just people and pets who called these places ...

On November 4, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted summary judgment in favor of conservation organizations Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute in a case challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) administration of the recovery program for endangered red wolves (Canis rufus).

FWS began reintroducing red wolves in North Carolina in 1987.  Red wolves were designated as a non-essential experimental population under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  As such, FWS may only ...

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in California Sea Urchin Commission v. Combs (Combs), Docket No. 17-1636, an appeal from a Ninth Circuit decision regarding endangered Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and deference to the decisions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  As we reported here last month, the case was seen as a potential vehicle for the Court to take up the broader issue of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that requires courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute so long as that interpretation is ...

Posted in Court Decisions

In WildEarth Guardians et al. v. U.S. Department of Justice, Case Nos. 17-16677, 17-16678, 17-16679 (Oct. 23, 2018), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed plaintiff-appellees case challenging the U.S. Department of Justice’s McKittrick policy.  In reversing the lower court, the Ninth Circuit concluded that plaintiff-appellees lack standing to pursue the case. 

The McKittrick policy directs Department of Justice attorneys who prosecute Endangered Species Act (ESA) cases to request jury instructions that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a ...

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On October 22, 2018, the U.S. Court of International Trade denied the request of various federal agencies to stay an injunction banning the import of Mexican seafood caught with gill nets in the Gulf of California.  The injunction, granted in July, is intended to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus), which can get tangled in commercial fishing gill nets.  The injunction required the United States Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Department of the Treasury, United States Department of Homeland Defense, and various ...

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Posted in Listing

On October 16, 2018, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to list the Crotch bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini), Suckely cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi), and western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis occidentalis) as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.  The Commission is required under the California Fish and Game Code to refer the petition to the California Department of Fish ...

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On October 1, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the first case of its new term, Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dkt. No. 17-71. The case concerns the designation of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa) in an area that is not currently capable of sustaining a frog population. The central issue in the appeal is whether an area that currently does not possess some of the characteristics deemed essential for the frog’s survival may nevertheless be designated as unoccupied critical habitat for ...

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The last several days have seen a flurry of activity in the federal courts in matters involving the Endangered Species Act (ESA):

  • In Crown Indian Tribe v. United States, CV 17-89-M-DLC, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana vacated (pdf) a June 30, 2017 final rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis). The court held that the Service violated the ESA when it delisted the Greater Yellowstone grizzly distinct population segment (DPS) without any analysis of ...
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As we reported here, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (together, the Services) recently proposed revisions to the regulations that implement portions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The submission deadline for comments was September 24, 2018.  If enacted, the Services assert that the proposed revisions would, among other things, streamline ESA consultations with other federal agencies and clarify the jeopardy standard.

The proposed revisions sparked a flurry of last minute comment submissions from environmental groups, who ...

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As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for its upcoming October 2018 term, one petition concerning an endangered sea otter relocation program is attracting a lot of attention as a potential vehicle for the Court to consider the broader issue of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. The petition has also created odd bedfellows, as the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration finds itself arguing alongside several national environmental non-profit organizations that the ...

Posted in Legal

On September 4, 2018, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit under the federal Freedom of Information Act against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  The lawsuit alleges that the Service has used irresponsible scientific methods while conducting its review of the endangered status for the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The lawsuit was triggered, in part, by a letter to the Service authored by one of the scientists who initially participated in the Service’s risk assessment for the beetle ...

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Posted in Listing

On August 23, 2018, the California Fish and Game Commission ("Commission") listed the Humboldt marten (Marten caurina humboldtensis) as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  The Commission also ratified its decision to list the Lassics lupine flower (Lupinus constancei) as an endangered plant under CESA.

Members of the weasel family, Humboldt martens were previously designated as a California Species of Special Concern and are currently under review for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.  Over the last quarter century ...

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Posted in Congress

On August 10, 2018, the representative from Indiana's 4th Congressional District introduced a bill entitled: "To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to remove freshwater mussels from the list of endangered and threatened species."  While the text of the bill isn't yet available, based on the title of the bill one can reasonably surmise that the author of the bill believes that freshwater mussels are not deserving of Endangered Species Act protection.  Further, this interpretation is supported by recent articles detailing the representative's long-running ...

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This week, the media has reported two changes in key roles at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  Greg Sheehan has reportedly left his role as Principal Deputy Director of USFWS.  Sheehan had held the role since appointed by DOI Secretary Zinke in June 2017.  As the Trump administration has not yet filled the role of Director of the USFWS, Sheehan had been the top official within USFWS.  Sheehan is expected to leave his role next week.

The media also reported this week that Andrea Travnicek has been named as Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish ...

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In recent weeks, the Trump Administration and Congress have proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its implementing regulations. Lawmakers from the Congressional Western Caucus introduced nine bills that would, according to the 15 legislators that introduced the bills, amend and modernize the ESA.  The lawmakers assert that the bills would also incentivize voluntary conservation efforts, let states enter into cooperative agreements for recovery, and prioritize data from local communities in making scientific decisions about conservation.

The bills ...

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Posted in Legislation

The Klamath River Renewal Corporation (the "corporation") recently submitted a plan for the removal of four dams on the lower Klamath River to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). In it, the corporation indicates its intent to sidestep compliance with the California Endangered Species Act and California’s Lake and Streambed Alteration Program by asking FERC to opine that those state law requirements are preempted by federal law. Among other things, these laws protect the critically endangered Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose sucker ...

Posted in Legal

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico granted New Mexico’s motion for summary judgment in a case brought by the Humane Society seeking to invalidate State trapping regulations related to cougars (Puma concolor).  Plaintiffs argued that the regulations, which amended existing regulations that authorize trapping of cougars, violate the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition on take of protected species.  Plaintiffs reasoned that the amended regulations would inevitably cause the take of listed Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) since cougars and wolves ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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