Elk killing case highlights ranchers' frustrations

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Two Northwest Colorado ranchers, apparently frustrated by foraging elk eating hay intended for livestock, now face thousands of dollars in fines and multiple felony charges for allegedly killing 34 elk.

Rodney Heath Culverwell, 41, and Kenneth Wolgram, 43, have been charged with 18 and 16 felony counts, respectively, of willful destruction of wildlife. Each was charged additionally in Moffat County District Court on Tuesday with 18 and 16 respective misdemeanor counts of illegal possession of wildlife. If convicted, each felony count carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Officers of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said they found the dead elk on property owned by Culverwell, listed as Rio Ro Mo Land Company, and at Wolgram's property. Both are located about 15 miles west of Craig. DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said officers completed a six-week investigation into the shootings and made the charges.

"We don't typically see that level of charges," Hampton said. "This is a significant case."

According to a search warrant affidavit, officers began investigating Culverwell's property Jan. 28 after two passersby notified the DOW they saw three dead elk - a bull, a cow and a calf - in the pasture.

Months earlier, on June 12, 2007, Culverwell had e-mailed a DOW officer about concerns of elk eating cattle feed and asking permission to kill the wildlife.

"If I have not heard from you within 2 weeks I will assume that you do not care and these matters must be taken care of by other means," Culverwell wrote, according to the affidavit.

Officers said they found a stack of elk carcasses in Culverwell's yard and noticed a cab full of spent, small-caliber, rifle casings in Culverwell's vehicle after executing a search warrant Feb. 22. The DOW said it began investigating Wolgram on Feb. 18 after finding elk carcasses near his property north of U.S. Highway 40. When questioned by wildlife officers, Wolgram denied shooting the animals, saying he didn't own a shotgun, according to an affidavit obtained by the Craig Daily Press. Officers found shotgun shells, ammunition, 13 elk carcasses, two coyotes, 63 packages of noncommercial meat and several weapons, the Daily Press reported.

A brutal winter

A brutal winter in Northwest Colorado prompting elk to venture into lower elevations to find food has been an ongoing issue for ranchers, longtime rancher Darryl Steele said Wednesday.

Steele, who runs 200 head of cattle west of Craig, near Maybell, said elk herds this winter have mixed in with the cattle, causing him significant losses of feed. Northwest Colorado boasts the nation's second largest migratory elk herds, Hampton said, reaching 22,000 strong last year.

Hampton said the DOW would like to reduce the Bears Ears herd size to 11,000 to 15,000, and the agency issued thousands more hunting licenses since 2000 for that reason.

"The elk are coming in by the hundreds," Steele said. "If a guy has only enough hay to winter his cows, then it's a pretty tough case. As a rancher and a farmer, you don't know what to do. If you can't get help, it's much more frustrating."

Steele said he was subsidized by the DOW for 18 tons of hay, but he figures he lost 37 tons of feed to elk. Steele said he's not so much concerned with elk eating the hay as elk pushing around cattle and causing them to lose their unborn calves.

Hampton said ranchers who receive less than $100 in payments from hunters to hunt wildlife on their property can receive subsidies to mitigate problems caused by wildlife. The agency has established "baiting areas" or feed zones for elk in an attempt to minimize damages to ranchers' feed stocks.

Hampton added it's common for landowners in Northwest Colorado to charge thousands of dollars per hunter for rights to hunt on private property. He said he couldn't say whether Wolgram or Culverwell charge for hunting rights or whether they had any former wildlife violations. Neither Wolgram nor Culverwell returned calls for comment Wednesday.

Hampton said ranchers can get help from the DOW with cracker shells or noisy rounds that are shot out of shotguns to scare off elk. The agency also offers fencing or reimburses ranchers with cash for their losses, if they qualify for the programs. He said these options were explained during a public meeting in Maybell last month.

"I can tell you the DOW has spent thousands and thousands of dollars in reimbursing ranchers for losses this winter," Hampton said. "This year, because of the nature of winter, we've dealt with quite a few situations."

Comments

taxslave 6 years, 8 months ago

Many, many people of this county eat deer and elk. There should have been an early hunt.

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trout2k 6 years, 8 months ago

It's a shame plain and simple. The land, the hay, the elk, the men who seem to have pulled the trigger, and the meat wasted. A shame. It is a crime to kill anything and not use it. This is a disgrace to all ranchers and hunters. There is no excuse for what they seem to have done. These allegations are an embarrassment to our community. The display of ignorance by these men leaves me feeling very ashamed and angry. I hope they never do this again.

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davesanrn 6 years, 8 months ago

I would have loved to have some elk meat, both because I like it and money is tight. Surely reasoned heads could figure something out to reduce the clearly too large herd, and help out people in the area who want and need meat.

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katobe 6 years, 8 months ago

I have a friend in Colorado Springs who is a retired veteran who would have jumped in his truck, in a heart beat, to get fresh elk meat.

Yes, these ranchers in the winter, hunters in the fall, collecting a price per head are a disgrace to our community. Very barbaric. It is absolutely disgusting.

They have their hand out to take the stack of hundred dollar bills from the hunters for a trespass fee when they want the animals on their land....

I'm confused...now they don't want the wildlife because they are a nuiscance....

What a double standard or would that be a double dipper???

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calvinhobbs 6 years, 8 months ago

Its a shame for the ranchers loss of feed. But some of these same ranchers charge hundreds of dollars to hunt, in some cases thousands. Others will not allow you to hunt at all. Yes there are lots of extra tags, but they say PRIVATE LAND ONLY. Just try to find some place that is private to hunt a cow elk for any season without having to pay a huge amount.

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Euclid 6 years, 8 months ago

These so-called ranchers don't seem to be frustrated when they are charging hunters thousands of dollars to hunt the elk in the fall. The truth is, some of these guys would have already lost the ranches their fathers built if it wasn't for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of hunting revenue the elk give them. How about this for a fair and just punishment - no hunting of OUR elk on their ranch for a year.

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grannyrett 6 years, 8 months ago

Years and years ago, when I was a teenager, there was a special hunt on ranches that had applied for help from the DOW. Gosh, it's been so long ago, I had forgotten all about it. I know that none of the hunters were from around here. It seems that they were all from the Eastern slope. Dad had applied for crop damage and they sent about a dozen or so hunters out to the ranch. It seems as if it was in the summer, so the deer had time to recover from the winter and put a little fat on. Gosh-anybody out there remember anything about this? Must have been in the mid 60's.

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justice4all 6 years, 8 months ago

The ranchers that charge a fee for hunting are doing this as a way of harvest or making a living off the land. this is much the same as harvesting a bale of hay. Sometimes the rate is very high and is more than a working class person could pay. But in defence of the rancher, if your employer offered you a salary much more than you felt deserved would you refuse it?. There is no defence for doing something so despicable as the ranchers are accused of doing. Sure they requested help from the DOW but a follow-up email or a personal visit could have resulted in a lawful solution to their problem. DOW quite frequently offers game damage permits that the ranchers could sell to recoup their losses. DOW also can offer reimbursement for loss of crop such as grazing or from your hatstack. They will also furnish--free of charge--- and deliver fence panels to keep the animals out of your hay. We all need a solution to this problem but let's play by the rules.

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justice4all 6 years, 8 months ago

please pardon my typo. I really meant HAYstack---not HATSTACK.

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wildlifelover 6 years, 8 months ago

What these two men have been charged with is despicable and don't tell me they didn't know. You would have to be dumb as a rock to live in this area and not know that you cannot do that. If they are found guilty, then they should receive the maximum penalty. But the key word is "charged". I have questions on why the investigation regarding Mr. Culverwell was started on JANUARY 28TH and they didn't execute a search warrant until FEBRUARY 22nd, 25 days later. Why is that? Is that so they hopefully could have a larger number of counts? And why is there no indication of a response to Mr. Culverwells email of JUNE 12, 2007? Did they just ignore him?

Mr. Wolgrams investigation seemed to move much faster, February 18th to February 22nd. Why is that? They were basically charged with doing the same thing.

In my opinion DOW needs to step up and acknowledge some responsibility. They had received complaints for weeks about the deer and elk starving to death. They put out the usual feel good BS with no regard to the damage that was occurring to the ranchers and farmers. Then when they couldn't stave off the complaints any longer they grudgingly decided to "bait" the elk away from the livestock feeding area. But as with their the typically slow response, by the time the got around to that about the end of February, the animals were so weak they either couldn't or wouldn't move. So that was pretty much for naught. BUT THEY DID DO SOMETHING. They'll be happy to tell you that, but leave out what a waste of time that was.

I am unhappy with the DOW and I think they could do a whole lot better. I don't necessarily blame they guys in the field but more on the upper management. You have to wonder if those people have ever worked anywhere other than behind a desk. Each year we get some new guys here that come with a great attitude. By the second year they have become pretty much like the ones that were here before them. I think a lot of that comes from the decisions of upper management and not from everything they encounter from the public.

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Hammer 6 years, 8 months ago

Wildlifelover, I don't think the DOW is in the business of 'feeding' wildlife unless it is an EXTREME situation. This does not qualify as such. If thousands of elk were starving and dying then that might have been a different matter . This winter there were hundreds of elk using haystacks for food, but by no means were every single one of those animals starving to death (remember, this is the largest elk herd in the world, there are many more elk out there than what people saw around stackyards). Elk are built to withstand some pretty harsh conditions and winter mortality is a normal occurrence and good for the overall health of the population. Having talked with and known landowners and DOW folks for many years, I would present another possibility for the way you view them: it is some of the people the DOW has to deal with (who only want what's best for THEMSELVES) that affects and molds their attitude, not what is happening in upper management. The DOW should be in the business of doing what's right for wildlife, which is not always what is right for ranchers. Life is not always fair, be you rancher, or elk. I can truly connect with and understand the frustration that many ranchers feel when they are faced with piles of hungry elk. There are so many ranches, so many elk, so few DOW people, and too little money and resources, and it is all compounded in a tough winter like the last one. I would recommend tactful approaches toward the problem in a timely manner from both the DOW and the landowners....and a touch of patience and understanding from both sides. To rephrase what someone else stated in another post....it will probably cost you more if you get caught illegally killing elk than if you let them eat your hay and ask for reimbursement later.

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wildlifelover 6 years, 8 months ago

Hammer - You are missing my point. I know the DOW is not in the business of feeding wildlife. I know that winterkill is a normal occurrence, I don't like it but I do understand that. My complaint with DOW is that they seem to drag their feet about responding to complaints. Especially from farmers and ranchers. Not all of the farmers and ranchers are on the dole from DOW under all the "Special Programs" such as Ranching for Wildlife. Then when they do finally respond it is with an attitude. They seem to think that "you" are stupid and they are the only ones that know anything.

It would also foster a better relationship if the DOW did not wait so long to start working with landowners to get the elk away from their feeding operations.

I agree, a more tactful approach on both sides would go along way. Especially in a timely manner and without the attitude. Nobody likes to be talked down to, especially when it is your livelihood that is being discussed. DOW needs to remember that people are going to respond in the same way as they are approached, no matter what the issue. Most of the DOW guys in the field that I have met, I like. I think they very much would like to do the right thing but their hands are also tied by the orders that come down the pipeline.

I am not sure if it was the writer of the newspaper article or the press release, but it made these guys sound like the scum of the earth. My point is DOW has some responsibility for what happened too.

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sfrank 6 years, 8 months ago

with all do respect, you choose your position. i am a hunter and not a tree hugger. we all have opinions, but the facts are wildlife was here before you or i. no one is holding a gun to your head to be a rancher, you can be a miner or a fricken wal-mart greeter but again you choose your position. so if you are rancher, it is by choice deal with it or become a wal-mart greeter.

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grannyrett 6 years, 8 months ago

It all comes down to: 1-They did it. 2-They knew it was wrong. 3-They knew what the penalty would be if they got caught. You can not live in this country-- be around ranching and farming, and make a big chunk of your living off hunting--and not know the consequences of doing what they did.

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Hammer 6 years, 8 months ago

The DOW is not responsible for the actions of these ranchers. They made their own decisions. There were other avenues they could have taken other than start slaying elk. That's all there is to it...I would refer wildlifelover back to granny's' last post. I will not get into a battle over this, so this will be my last post on this issue. I will however continue to read with interest both positions as this case continues, and hope that justice is served. Kudo's to all the other ranchers out there who deal with these situations legally and ethically.

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grannyrett 6 years, 8 months ago

I talked to my Mom about the special hunting they had in the mid 60's to help get the herd sizes under control. It was just deer hunting that we were involved in. The DOW would not pay any money for crop damage. They had some kind of special license drawing over in Denver. They sent two hunters a weekend for 4-6 weeks. Let me tell you folks, it didn't do any good. We had a door with a window in the dining room at our house. We would sit down to supper, and before we finished eating, we would count 75-100 head of deer in the bottom half of our hay field. I have also heard some mighty educated folks with the DOW state that either deer or elk, can't remember which, won't eat hay. HAHAHAHA! We used to have winters when I was a kid -a hundred years ago, kinda- that were worse than this winter has been. It is so natural for animals to die in the winter. It is the way of nature for only the strongest to survive. What do you think they did before man moved into this valley? That may be what is wrong with the herds today. They haven't had this natural culling of the weaker animals to keep the herd size in check. Mother nature is the grand master in figuring out how many animals this area will support. Let her do her job.

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Joanna Hatten 6 years, 8 months ago

You know what......if I had a huge amount of land and could get people with entirely to much money to pay me trespass fees..guess what... I would do it to. Do I agree with what they did? No but I certainly understand it. If these two gentlemen were people whom we commonly see getting into trouble everyday that would be another story. To my knowledge neither one of these two are anything but hardworking ranchers. Who are we to judge them. It's really easy to sit back and say what horrible things they have done when we haven't heard their side of the story. I have friends that are ranchers and have told me horror stories of the elk not only devouring their very expensive and very limited hay, but also these elk goring their livestock in battles over the hay. So they not only lose their hay but they are also losing several head of livestock. Not to mention some of the livestock are pregnant.

All I am saying is please don't judge these guys by just the press stories. Just because they have land and they ability to make money off of it does not make them crooks. Truth be told I bet they were doing the same thing alot of ranchers in this area did this winter...they just got caught. I hope the DOW and and DA do not try to use the guys to make an example.

Before passing judgment just remember....there are very few people in this very small town who don't have weeds in their back yards. Tend to your own and leave your neighbors alone.

Good luck to both of you and I hope you are treated fairly.

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slipknot 6 years, 8 months ago

Maximum 80 grand for a trepass fee and then these guys pull a stunt like this? Access to 21,000+ acres and they are shooting elk for eating cattle feed? Sounds like felonies x 32 x $10 grand each plus loss of all hunting, fishing or related type of privileges plus loss of all firearm privleges. Upon completion of required jail time and fine payment both clowns would then fall into the 'poor' farmer catagory. I have nothing but contempt for these two. getagrip: the DOW already set an example they need to stay with it.

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Joanna Hatten 6 years, 8 months ago

A "STUNT" ...... are you kidding me?!?! These guys had their reasons and yes they will pay for what they did in more ways then one.

First of all let me restate......I DO NOT AGREE WITH WHAT THE DID.

How much do you know about "cattle feed'? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed cattle?

If you had 21,000 acres of land and someone was willing to pay you 80 grand, would you turn in down??!?!?!?! Don't let the little green monster out because someone else has the ability to make money off of what they OWN!!!

Once again.....tend to the weeds in your own back yard and don't pass judgement.

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hunter 6 years, 8 months ago

No matter how you slice it, they were wrong and need to pay the price. There is never any way to justify such a disregard of the law. There are many ranchers around here who worked very well with the DOW and managed to survive the winter. The DOW did offer help. They always tend to offer the ranchers elk pannels. They even offered the abilty for many ranchers to go pick up feed and spread it to bait other animals away from the feeding areas for cows. Plain and simple, they love to have the elk around come hunting season, but then they want em all gone come feeding time. It does not work that way.

Getagrip,

This is our backyard. Those animals belong to us, the poepl of the State. Elk hunting makes far too much money for each and every individual in this community.

The whole point that they get money for the hunting lease is not a problem. The real issue occurs where they then shoot the very same animals they get the big money over. Yes I would lease my land to hunting and get the money. I sure in heck would not complain about the animals the rest of the year. Many of these ranchers whould not have a chance to make it if not for the hunting lease and the animals availible as a result of the DOW efforts.

Overall both the men are idiots. They had many other options to handle this situation. They made a choice and hopefully will pay for it. If everytime simething hurt us financially we can not run out and just kill it.

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katobe 6 years, 8 months ago

I can't imagine why they bought an airplane.

hmmmm....only speculation but how perfect to scout over 21,000 acres....flyovers to spot the elk/deer/antelope so they can get a better trespass fee or bonus for themselves and their guide.

That is one way to get a successful hunting percentages for your bookings.

But is this ethical guiding/hunting??? Again, only speculation?!?!?!

Aircraft registration number: 57670 Serial number 627-74 Registered aircraft model BELLANCA 7GCBC
Registered aircraft type fixed wing single engine Year manufactured 1974 Certification issued date Wednesday, May 17, 2006 Airworth date Thursday, January 31, 1974 Air worthiness: multiple Registrant type corporation Year manufactured 1974 Registrant, name RIO RO MO RANCH Street PO BOX 505 CRAIG,Colorado

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katobe 6 years, 8 months ago

This goes far beyond little o Moffat County. Tell me that this hasn't made in impact elsewhere.
Go to google and search Rodney Culverwell.
What a sore eye this has caused for Moffat County, "The elk hunting capitol of the world." Get a grip said... How much do you know about "cattle feed'? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed cattle? I would think an minimum $80,000 lease would buy 534 tons of hay @ $150 per ton. That is roughly 16,000 bales of hay. 6 months of winter = 2,666 bales per month. By golly, I think that would feed a lot of cattle. Gee Beav, we might have enough left over for 8' fencing for our haystacks. Get a grip...do the math. $80,000 is just a MINIMUM for the lease.

As stated above, they finally got caught in a heinous crime that has pathetic written all over it!!!

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slipknot 6 years, 8 months ago

Culverwell is catching the brunt of our anger here. The other game thief is by far a worse criminal than Rodney. This guy is not a real "rancher" or "farmer" in the sense of the word. He has several horses, and from the point of view of people who worked with him at one of the local mines he used the hay as elk bait more than horse feed anyway, his ranch could barely qualify as a hunting ranch anyway. Attitude really makes the difference with this guy.
It appears that this is all academic anyway DOW seems to have their minds all set to let these clowns off with a slap on the paws, if what I heard earlier today is true. No felony arrest, just a ticket and an advisement to appear, and getagrip I do know the hay situation over there. I also know how to take better care of it than those two clowns who need to be in jail as we speak. DOW are you reading this blog? What's good for the hunting and fishing license buying public in Colorado, as far as punishment of lawbreakers go, is good for those who knowing violate the laws with intent and malice aforethought (or premeditation).

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katobe 6 years, 8 months ago

I heard their was a donation hat being passed amongst the "big ranchers" to help pay for attorneys for these shmucks. I don't think money can buy them out of this one.

The population of the sportsman/hunters far out number the "big ranchers." We need to let our voices be heard beyond this forum.

Maybe somebody needs to get a hold of Paula Woodward with 9News Investigates or the Denver Post on how unhappy the residents of Moffat County are on this topic.

Gary Wall sure got a lot of attention.

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slipknot 6 years, 8 months ago

My final comment on this rotten subject: These two guys need to be charged with the maximum number of felony counts for the deer and elk and I would be willing to bet there are even an antelope or two lying not so well hid amongst the carnage and the appropriate number of misdeameanors, for the coyotes, rabbits etc. and then placed in jail for their own protection. Lest some of the elk band together and attack them while they sleep in their ranches. I heard at coffee the other morning Rodney was thinking of taking a fishing trip to Cozomel or some other place, probably a hay buying trip.

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workinprogress 6 years, 8 months ago

katobe: You sure display alot of negative feelings. Why don't you call 9news? Might it have something to do with the dogs harassing your chickens a year or two ago? And I do believe that the pilot of the airplane, that your investigation revealed, was a petition circulator for your cause recently against the current D.A. Each story has two sides.

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gobroncos 6 years, 8 months ago

Maybe she has already. Maybe the landowners should keep their dogs home. What a novel thought but that would be neighborly. I do believe that she let them on her property to fetch their runaway horse. When the dogs tore through her sons fence and kill birds, repeatedly, it is a definate promblem. At least she didn't go to work and brag about it. I do believe she resolved that situation with our SO after asking nicely for two years to keep the dogs home. Our neighborhood isn't meant to be a home for all of the wayward pound dogs.

There are a lot of negative feelings about these elk being slaughtered as it affects our whole county and it's image.

Some qestion will our DA do their job or not. Just like the illegals who were arrested for narcotics. Case after case in that courthouse has plea bargains. Maybe you should do your homework before spouting off at katobe.

She was fighting for justice with the DA. That guy spent less than a year on jail for killing someone.

Go rant somewhere else.

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here_to_stay 6 years, 8 months ago

The DOW likes to make promises and not follow through with them the problems I have been spread over two years and nothing has been done at this point even though they keep saying they will. At this point the numbers show that the DOW couldn't manage a pen of rabbits not to mention a group of wildlife. The elk numbers have been 2x the goal that the DOW says the land could handle for over three years. If I were to run my cattle operation this way I would have been brought up on charges of cruelty to animals a long time ago. When the land can't support the use I have to sell and then rebuild as the land can with stand it. At this point the land can't handle the same numbers as it did in the 70's and 80's but the Dow lets the numbers increase well beyond what they were then and then can't understand why the animals are moving and trying to survive by storming the places that have the feed. The antelope have moved east due to the fact that the excess numbers of elk are wintering were they used to live. At this point if the Dow doesn't step in and learn to manage then Mother Nature will just as she is doing with the so well managed prairie dogs of Boulder that now have the "plague". For those of you who think that the answer is get help from DOW then maybe you should try jumping through those hoops and not be one of the elite ranchers that are bringing in the thousand dollars hunters to help pad the DOW coffer.

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