Culverwell takes the stand

Prosecution rests in poaching trial

Trial at a glance

• Moffat County rancher Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged with 80 poaching crimes for allegedly killing 16 elk this winter, including 16 class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

• His defense attorney said Culverwell acted in defense of his property because the elk continually destroyed hay and fencing this winter.

• The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office maintains Culverwell did not exhaust legal remedies before shooting elk.

Culverwell's account of ranching, wildlife

Rodney Culverwell, 41, said he first saw an elk on family's land, the Rio Ro Mo Ranch west of Craig, when he was about 12 years old.

Now, he said while on the witness stand Tuesday defending himself against 80 poaching crimes related to the deaths of 16 elk this winter, there are so many wild animals in Moffat County that ranchers have a hard time keeping up.

Culverwell testified he invested in about 300 pivot sprinklers to water his fields, which can cost between $33,000 and $76,000 each, because of wildlife grazing on his land.

"We have come under too much competition from wildlife, so we can't use dry-land fields anymore," Culverwell said, adding the sprinklers allow him to grow enough crops in one field to sustain his livestock and make allowances for wildlife.

Although testimony showed he leases his land to a local hunting guide for $80,000 each year, Culverwell said that does not equal what he could make from an extra 250 head of cattle, which his land could sustain without grazing wildlife.

Culverwell said hunters also damage about $4,500 worth of property each year, a figure that does not include labor costs.

He added that when all is said and done, he would rather be a rancher than have anything to do with hunters.

"I'd rather have the cows, myself," Culverwell said. "That's part of the thrill of being a rancher, I guess, is raising food for people."

Rodney Culverwell admitted to killing six elk on his ranch this winter during almost four hours of testimony Tuesday afternoon.

As his defense attorney's first witness, Culverwell testified he shot five elk and ran over another with his tractor. He also shot at other elk at least twice, but he said he was uncertain if he killed them or where they might have died.

Culverwell, a 41-year-old Moffat County rancher, described an early February scene where elk lay tangled and dying in fences protecting his hay and others were malnourished to the point of near-starvation.

Of the five elk he knows he shot, Culverwell said three were trapped in fences, one was a starving calf he "put out of its misery" and another calf was an accident. He had meant to hit a bull elk stuck in a hay stackyard fence, but hit another calf instead with a .45-caliber handgun, he said.

The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office has charged Culverwell with 80 poaching crimes in the deaths of 16 elk this winter, including 16 class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

Prior to Culverwell taking the stand, the prosecution's last witness testified he heard the defendant admit to killing 21 elk early this year.

Bruce Seely, who said he had been a Moffat County rancher for 60 years, testified he spoke with Culverwell and local resident Tom Mikesell earlier this year outside City Market.

"I asked (Culverwell), I said, 'All those rumors that are floating around about you, are they true?'" Seely said. "He said, 'Yes, it's true. I shot them.'"

When Culverwell took the stand, he denied he ever said that to Seely or anybody.

"No, I don't have any idea what he's talking about," he said.

Culverwell said he did not kill any elk this winter out of "simple frustration," as his attorney, Pamela Mackey, phrased the question.

"No, I felt sorry for the animals," Culverwell said. "No, part of my feelings of being a rancher is a love for animals."

It was important to get elk out of his fences because the entrapped animals held the fence down, making it possible for other wildlife to easily jump into his hay pens and eat his crops, he said.

Culverwell testified he did not want to cut them loose because that would put him in harm's way of a large, scared animal.

"If you have an elk hung up in a fence, it's too heavy to lift that fence back up," Culverwell said. "I'm not going to cut a live elk loose and sit there and get stomped. I don't feel that animal had much life left after laying there, struggling in the fence."

During Snow's cross-examination, Culverwell stated at no point during the three to four days he shot elk - between Feb. 6 and 9 - did he attempt to call the Colorado Division of Wildlife to tell them he had elk stuck in the fence or that he had to put any down.

Snow then asked if Culverwell "really" didn't like the DOW and did not want them on his land.

"That's correct," Culverwell responded.

He also affirmed Snow's questions that he is "not a fan of government in general" and does not want anyone to interfere with him being a rancher.

Culverwell could not provide many details about the days between Super Bowl weekend, when elk problems initially began, and the afternoon of Feb. 9, when he and his wife bought enough fencing material to protect their hay.

He could not say when he shot most animals - with the exception of the calf he put out of its misery - and he could not say which animal he shot first.

The trial is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. today. Snow estimated he could continue his cross-examination of Culverwell for up to another hour.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

Comments

allen13 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm confused. I thought Mr. Culverwell was killing the elk to 'protect his land and hay' - now he says he killed them to put them out of their misery because they were tangled in the fences and starving to death. Where was the love when he was watching them starve to death, but did not want to help them out by feeding some hay? (There is always hay left over after winter, rotting in the haystacks). Rodney did not shot all those elk out of the goodness of his heart (to end suffering), if you have compassion, you would not intentionally run over an elk with your tractor!

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bigrred1576 5 years, 7 months ago

Colorado is an "open range" state. Meaning that someone is supposed to fence animals out of their property. Most ranchers , (being good neighbors), fence their animals in. In ths case, Maybe the D O W should fence their animals out of the Culverwell property. I can just see the State putting up 8' elk fence, LOL

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nikobesti 5 years, 7 months ago

Hey bigrred1576, how are you proposing that the State of Colorado pay for thousands of miles of 8' elk fence? Are you offering as a taxpayer to pay for that endeavor?

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John_Doe 5 years, 7 months ago

If his thrill is "raising food for people" then why did he leave the elk to lay? And I bet he doesn't mind taking the $80,000 from the hunters each year even though he would "rather raise the cows". C'mon nothing like wanting the best of both worlds and making it come around the way he sees fit! I still want to know how many other Moffat County ranchers decided to blow away elk on their property? Did all the ranchers deal with this difficult situation in the same manner?

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lonelyone 5 years, 7 months ago

I would guess that other ranchers have the same problem, but probably don't deal with it like this. Maybe they shoot one or two and if they turn around and eat the meat then I don't have a problem with it. But to do as Mr. Culverwell has done is just not right. After the two young men from the south, going to jail, it will be interesting to see what happens in this case.

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redneckgirl 5 years, 7 months ago

Either way, right or wrong....i'm actually sick of "Rodney Cover-well" and dead elk stories. It's starting to get boring already.

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allen13 5 years, 7 months ago

biggred 1576 - Being an open range state, that would mean Culverwell (being the property owner) would have the responsibility to fence out the animals.

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sickandtired 5 years, 7 months ago

come on people. Would you eat an elk you just shot if it was starving to death?! I know I wouldn't! And even if this winter was as bad as the last one, and DOW gave out special permits to thin out the herds, Would you want to eat one? I had several die right in front of me! It was the saddest thing. The elk came every day and ate our livestocks hay. They ruined fences and corrals. Maybe you city people don't know or care how much we had to pay for the hay last year. Add to that the cost of absolutely everything going up, and we had to feed even more to our own livestock just to get them through the winter. I know we didn't have any extra hay for the elk. And we damm sure don't have the money to put up 8'fences!! I doubt too many ranchers do! I'm not going to sit and judge Rodney or anyone else, because I know what we went through. So I think you city people who have no idea how to operate a ranch should just keep your comments to yourself. And ourDOW can learn a thing or two from the DOW guys who fed elk down in Gunnison. And we're supposed to be the Elk Hunting Capitol of the World?!

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buck523 5 years, 7 months ago

All of this still does not change the fact that what happened is illegal. I don't really care what type of spin is put on it.....it is ILLEGAL! I can only imagine the frustration that was going on....but it is still ILLEGAL to go out and start shooting elk. The thing that concerns me is that whatever the jury decides will set one heck of a precedent. If the jury comes back and finds him innocent, there won't be an elk left standing in most ranchers fields come the next bad winter. It will be interesting how this turns out. Hopefully there is a conviction and the precedent is set that it is not okay to start shooting all the elk in your hay in the winter. And, hopefully the DOW will sit up and take notice and revise some of their policies. They need to be sure they are stepping up to the plate and taking care of business also. We'll see what happens!

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John_Doe 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm in comlete agreement....no matter how you slice it up...it's illegal. I also agree that maybe DOW will do something to help these ranchers who have struggled with the whole situation, but didn't resort to the B.S. that Rodney pulled. My hats off to you guys.

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here_to_stay 5 years, 7 months ago

the fensing laws state that you hav eto have a three wire fence to keep out livestock I don't think that is going to keep much wildlife out

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Tencman 5 years, 7 months ago

The "Trial" will determine what is legal and what is not in this case. Not the opinions and common gossip that surround it.

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allen13 5 years, 7 months ago

Sickandtired - explain to me why the government should have to bail ranchers out anyway? Don't get me wrong, I'm from a ranching family (not from the City), but that is the risk we take in our business. Why is it that downtown businesses can go out of business and the government does not come in and help them out? A gas station closes down, a lumber yard, a grocery store, etc - non of who get government assistance. And no, I would not eat an elk that was starving to death, however - when the elk first started having problems, DOW should have fed them, but since they did not get the kill ratio they wanted during hunting season, I guess they figured they'd get the herds down by starving them to death. When this was first a problem, licenses should've been issued so the animals could've been harvested before they were starving to death. That did not happen. And Rodney still was illegal in shooting them, regardless. We had elk starving to death in our pasture too, and guess what - we FED THEM! We don't have extra money either, but our cows & horses made it through, and we saved a few elk too.

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redneckgirl 5 years, 7 months ago

sickandtired--don't tell us to keep our comments to ourselves. That's what this forum is for..we haven't told you to keep your comments to yourself. I'll comment whether you like it or not.....and who cares if your a "City person" or not. This is a small community, this happened in OUR small community....so if you're going to tell people to keep their comments to themselves, then you better eat your words, you aren't any better than all the rest of us.

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grannyrett 5 years, 7 months ago

sickandtired--You think you are the only one who comments on this forum that lives on a ranch? Get a life!

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freeman 5 years, 7 months ago

sick and tired ,,,,,,,,,,,,OF HEARING YOU SO CALLED RANCHERS COMPLAIN OF THE WILDLIFE.I WOULD SAY YOU ARE THE ONES THAT CHOSE THAT LIFESTYLE,,,,,DEAL WITH IT.;

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redneckgirl 5 years, 7 months ago

hahaha..nice comeback here to stay....that was kinda funny.

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lonelyone 5 years, 7 months ago

You know, times are getting tough for many people not just ranchers. Maybe in some ways ranchers/farmers have things a bit better in as much as they can grow their own food and plant gardens too. I know the life is not an easy one by any means and I don't mean to say that it is, but those who live in town don't have a cow or pig that can be slaughtered and put by for the winter, nor chickens for eggs and so on.So if times were to get tough enough for somone from town and they took matters into their own hands and broke the law by stealing gas or groceries and we got caught, we'd have to pay the piper for our mis-deeds. Everyone who breaks the law has to pay in one way or another. Mr. Culverwell may pay dearly for what he may have done or he may have made a point with DOW and will get a lighter sentence. Just because he's local and has a name that many people know, doesn't mean he should get off any easier then the guys from Arkansas. OH and sickandtired when I made the comment about eating an elk or two, I was not talking about a starving animal with no meat on the bones. I just meant an animal that was getting into the hay or keeping the cows from getting to their feed......something such as that.

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Tencman 5 years, 7 months ago

How many starving animals should a rancher feed? One, One Hundred. Maybe a Thousand or so? Some areas get more Elk coming thru than others. Who sets the amount? When do you stop or start? What is the "Right thing to do"? Is someone just as responsible for letting them starve? Is there any guilt? Is there any responsibility? This is what trials are for. Not just for the accused but for the accuser as well. People are innocent unless they are proven guilty. The same rule applies to all of us.

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gobroncos 5 years, 7 months ago

It is the DOW's responsibility to manage the animals. Not give them birth control. They can't control the number of elk that are killed. There has been too many warm seasons with elk hunting for several years. I don't care how many licenses you issue. If the elk don't come out of the high country they will never get their projected kill rate. We have had very mild winters and therefore high numbers in calves. The elk are not migrating as far west in the winters so the park in a ranchers field. The DOW has done their job in managing the herds. It is mother nature who has made the hunting seasons difficult with mild weather. It is a sad thing but if mother nature decides to kill off some of the population of elk with starvation then we shouldn't mess with it. I don't like seeing it either but if you run out and feed them then we will have more of a population overload of elk. Rodney is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I agree a good attorney should not be able to pick apart so called mistakes that they law enforcement didn't do their job perfect. If the evidence presents itself that he shot them then he shot them. It is not the DOW on trial it is Rodney period. A big $$$ lawyer is trying to overturn the case and that isn't right. He admitted to shooting the elk. He should be ashamed as a rancher, a hunter and a citizen of Moffat County for being unethical.

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Tencman 5 years, 7 months ago

A good attorney will provide the best legal council possible whether the attorney is "High $$" or not. The actions of a man defending what is his and making no attempt to hide it in a situation such as this speaks for a lot of people in many different ways.. I doubt all the facts have been presented to the public and most have learned not to judge without all facts. It is amazing how many people claim to know what is legal and what isn't and who should pay and who shouldn't without knowing all the facts and delegated responsibilities.. We are all intitled to our opinions as well as being innocent until the end of the trial.

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sickandtired 5 years, 7 months ago

allen13, where in my post did i say anything about ranchers wanting the government to bail us out?! We didn't ask for money and don't expect any. So what a moronic generalization you make of ranchers! Not all ranchers are the same, there are good and bad. Its too bad that some of the 'bad' give the rest of us a bad name! And I didn't ask that you all keep your opinions to yourself, you're entitled to speak your mind, as am I. But it is irritating as hell to listen to people who know absolutely nothing about ranching to make such broad, ignorant generalizations! So please keep your ranching opinions to yourself if you know nothing about ranching!I know nothing about your business, therefore I would never tell you how to run your business or your life. And some of the comments on here :(redneck girl) are pure hateful, it is obvious to all that a few certain of you throw daggers at anyone and everyone that has a different opinion than yours!Can we really believe a few gossips that say that Rodney has been shooting elk for years now?! If the shoe were on your feet, how would you feel about so many people saying bad things about you? Alot of you have yourselves up on a pedestal, and you better be careful, because what goes around comes around again. don't be hating.

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grannyrett 5 years, 7 months ago

sickand tired-I'd only worry about people saying bad things about me if they were true.

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grannyrett 5 years, 7 months ago

tax-What's one thing got to do with the other? You lost me here. Raising beef has little if anything to do with poaching.

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taxslave 5 years, 7 months ago

To sickandtired.....you're a voice of reason, thank you.

Thursday the FDA announced that our food supply in this nation is flooded (contaminated) with CLONED meat and milk. They said there is no way they know where it is nor can they tell it apart.

Culverwell's ranch (cattle) is a godsend.....you people (hateful people) better be careful what you wish for.

Ranchers and farmers are a dying breed in this nation. One thing learned after the great depression was....Number One....have control of you food supply and Number Two......be able to fix your own car.

Here we are again, depression (great) upon us.

Thank you Mr. Culverwell for choosing your profession. I'll buy your meat and I pray the best for you. Truth will prevail.

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redneckgirl 5 years, 7 months ago

wow i'm suddenly "hateful" now because i said i would comment whether you like it or not. Whatever...i've been called much worse by better people. You're right, none of us know nothing about ranching because there are so few of them around the big city of Craig. I'll just stay out of your know-it-all opinions because i'm hateful...wah...I must go find myself a tissue now, sniff sniff....

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allen13 5 years, 7 months ago

Tencman - I have to wonder, how many elk did you kill on your property? You seem to be pretty supportive of the doings of Culverwell. That is your right to support him though.

BUT your post is very interesting to me. You state a good attorney will provide the best legal council possible... true... and that attorney can get some one off who is guilty. I have a good notion that Rodney will be found innocent, or have a hung jury. But that still does not make him innocent. If that happens, he just got lucky because his attorney out lawyered Snow. OJ was found innocent too. That's a joke. Just like it will be if Rodney is found innocent. You also stated that "the actions of a man defending what is his and making no attempt to hide it in a situation such as this speaks for a lot of people in many different ways" and "I doubt all the facts have been presented to the public and most have learned not to judge without all facts." Well Tencman, that is well said, because you see, Rodney is hiding things, such as the other guns that would match up with the bullets in those other elk he claimed he did not shoot. And the many other big game he and his buddies slaughtered over the years. Yes, it is very very true, and there are others out there that know it as a fact. It makes me pounder the possibility that Snow isn't doing his best to prosecute this case, or he would've got to the bottom of it and put the right witnesses on the stand to PROVE IT. Rodney is perjuring himself. And in your words "It is amazing how many people claim to know what is legal and what isn't and who should pay and who shouldn't without knowing all the facts and delegated responsibilities." Maybe you'd better know the facts as well Tencman.

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50cal 5 years, 7 months ago

this is so amazing because everyone is looking at one thing and letting that determine their whole view point on this issue. If Rodney did things in his past that some say he did this would go to show a pattern? If Rodney only had enough hay to feed his livestock because last year was a drought year and then the winter was worse than normal what should he protect? If the dow did its job then we wouldn't have these problems? There are so many issues that there is no simple answer. but I will open up myself for criticism here. The DOW has went from three weeks of hunting to three months of hunt and still our herds get bigger. This is because even though there is more hunting, there is also a lower harvest. How can this be? I can explain it this way, I used to hunt every year up in Indian run. There was a huge camp at the bottom and a huge camp at the top. No pressure until opening morning. I went in last year and you could not from the bottom to the top find a camping site on either side of the road. look up on the ridge tops and blaze orange on every ridge top. This was before opening day. Why would it be so packed? DOW has opened this area up because some years ago they found CWD there and are now trying to eliminate it. What does this do? It pushes the animals that your hunting off the public land and onto private where they have no pressure to move, hence the harvest numbers decline. It is not only this area it is other areas. I have relatives that hunt north of hwy forty and they witnessed the same thing last year. The DOW did their survey and said we had 15,000 elk then they updated their numbers and said we had 45,000 elk. What? now they say the herd is down to 19,000. we all know the harvest was not that good last year. Rodney Culverwell, How many really know him? here's a guy who saved his family ranch when it almost went bankrupt. He has seen what years of drought have done. This is why he went from dry land haying to irrigating. It has been said that they lived on ranches or live on ranches and have never had to resort to this behavior. I have! 1982,1983,1984 bring any memories to anyone? this was awhile ago i know but the elk and deer were fed in many places those years. We would get up in the mornings to feed cattle and find many times that the elk had came in and been so weak they could not get up or gotten caught in a fence or had coyotes drag them down and eat their asses out of them while they were still alive.So I ask who would let an animal lay there and suffer from the inflictions a harsh winter has inflicted on them? If you do you are far crueler than the person who puts a bullet in their head and goes on about his business. continued>>>>

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50cal 5 years, 7 months ago

this was not a normal winter, we are not getting back to normal winters. If it was a normal winter why did steamboat set a new record for snowfall this last winter? I had eight to ten foot snow drifts around my house this last winter, it packed so hard you could walk anywhere you wanted. does anyone know what this does to the food supply for deer and elk? Did Rodney exhaust all of his options? probably not. Did he call and email the DOW? Yes and he was ignored! what do you do? wait for someday when they get around to it? I think you have a choice, you wait and risk losing valuable feed or you take matters into your own hands and solve the problem. There are many things done wrong here, but at issue is whether or not the landowner has a right to protect his private property. If Rodney has done things in the past he should have been prosecuted for them. I know everyone has staunch view on this issue but don't resort to to the name calling, stay off the forums crap Lets exchange ideas and solve this. It is our community, towns people and those of us living in the country alike.

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lonelyone 5 years, 7 months ago

Is it just me or did we suddenly become hateful to one another?? Seems to me the this topic has brought out some pretty strong feelings and we're taking them out on each other.

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gobroncos 5 years, 7 months ago

The charges against Rodney are poaching wildlife. You are probably right that he did not exhaust all of his efforts. BUT he sent the email to the DOW in June of 2007. That was 6 months before winter hit. It was another 2 to 3 months before winter became very harsh. From my understanding Rodney said you will do this or else (in June). Was that not premditated? Was that an act of I'll show you? It only became an issue of Rodney protecting his property when he hired a big attorney. Big name ranchers passed the hat for collections to protect/hire an attorney for another big name rancher. We need to get passed the good ole boy and see it for what the charges really are which is poaching. Poaching is illegal. Forget the snow, forget the hay panels, forget the fences, forget the starving elk. He is being charged for an illegal crime. The number of ethical ranchers that fed the elk and didn't squawk about it far out way Rodney the good ole boy. I know of ranchers in the Hamilton area that called the DOW because their livestock was being harassed by a bull elk. You know what, the DOW did their job and shot the animal. I'm a hunter, a small rancher and I'm sorry I don't buy his b.s. story of the elk was charging him so he ran over it with a tractor. I'm sure he was safe in the cab many feet above the animal when it was chased down. He shot at a calf and oh, no accidently shot a bull. Oh, and shot another when when it was stuck in the fence. If they were all stuck in the fence and/or weak how in the world could they be ravaging his hay stacks lete alone charging him. If it was that bad I sure in the heck would have called with a phone instead of communicating with a computer via email. Or got on my truck and driven to town and visited the DOW, the SO or the BLM. Last time I looked there was a land line phone at the Cuverwell ranch. Still in the white pages today. On the same note, I saw many elk on my way into town that were hung up or starving. You know people that is what they make phones for us to call 824-6501 and report it. Every time, the authorities whether it be BLM, DOW or the sheriff's office handled the situation. Take the law into your own hands, get caught, and their is always a price to pay. Urgghhhhh.......this is such a crock. Glad I'm not a good ole' boy. My conscious couldn't live with it.

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