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After her farm flooded, this B.C. farmer went looking for solutions

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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Photography by Marty Clemens

Farmer Adrienne Dickson on her Topley, B.C. farm

This story is part of Going with the Flow, a series that dives into how restoring nature can help with B.C.’s flood problems — and what’s stopping us from doing it.

Adrienne Dickson rests one hand on a barbed wire fence she recently installed on her property in the small rural community of Topley, B.C. Behind her, across a sprawling hayfield, dozens of sheep graze in the shade of a forested hill and cattle are up in a pasture beyond. 

Two years after Dickson and her family bought the farm in 2013, there was a major flood and the Upper Bulkley River started changing. The rising waters eroded the banks at two bends, huge chunks of the property fell off into the river.

Like farmers in river valleys around the world, Dickson was facing a loss of land caused by flooding, a problem predicted to grow in pace and scale with climate change. She wanted to find a way to avoid losing more land.

“My dad says in the olden days they would have just took a Cat and cut the corner off,” she says, chuckling and explaining this would widen the river and allow sediment to get flushed downstream. 

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These days, putting an excavator in the river is frowned upon, so she set out to see what options were available. She first met with a Ministry of Agriculture representative to discuss potential solutions, most of which came with a hefty price tag and would involve the use of riprap — engineered placement of rocks and sometimes concrete blocks that armour riverbanks against erosion.

Later, she serendipitously connected with some locals working to support the health of the watershed. One of those was Cindy Verbeek, northern B.C. coordinator for A Rocha Canada, a faith-based conservation organization. Verbeek and others had recently opened a hatchery in the nearby community of Houston to mitigate declining salmon populations.

“I grew up on this river and was just bullshitting with Cindy and I was talking about how the river was eating away,” Dickson says. “They were working to try to improve these sites, where they had a lot of sediment hitting the river, to try to improve the spawning grounds.”

Aerial view of CN rail line and Upper Bulkley River
The CN rail line cuts through the Upper Bulkley River system, severing sections and holding back the waters with riprap, engineered placement of rocks designed to reduce erosion.

Verbeek visited the farm and proposed addressing the erosion as part of a multi-year restoration project A Rocha was partnering on. Dickson jumped at the chance.

By planting fast-growing willow and cottonwood shoots into the eroded bank, they attempted to replicate what the ecosystem was like before the land was cleared for agriculture and development. The method — called low-tech riparian restoration — is a cost-effective alternative to mechanical flood mitigation projects and can be tailored to any impacted river ecosystem. The idea is that imitating natural systems, such as beaver dams and brushy banks, sets the stage for nature to take over and heal the damage that was done. 

“When I was a kid, I remember the fish in here, like tons of salmon,” Dickson says. “I caught my first rainbow when I was six years old in this river. I want to stop the erosion of my land — and it will help the fish.”

These days, few salmon make it this far upriver due to the combined impacts of climate change, forestry, mining, agriculture and the CN Rail line, which cuts through the watershed. 

“It just got ignored, for lack of a better word: ‘Oh, that’s the baby Bulkley, who cares? It’s just a little stream,’ ” she explains. “Actually, it had a lot to it and people didn’t realize. The fish supported a lot of things. And when they left, the birds left, the critters left.”

Willow shoots planted throughout a bank of the Upper Bulkley River will develop root networks that will hold the riverbank together, preventing further erosion during flood events.
Willow shoots planted throughout a bank of the Upper Bulkley River will develop root networks that will hold the riverbank together, preventing further erosion during flood events.

‘Protection and restoration’ builds river resilience

What’s happening to Dickson’s farm and the associated impacts on the ecosystem are far from isolated. 

As the climate crisis intensifies, flooding, drought and unpredictable extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace. Wading through the muck of a flooded hayfield and losing a few feet of property to erosion isn’t just an inconvenience to farmers — these changes are indicative of bigger problems facing river ecosystems worldwide.

In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted loss of productivity in rivers can impact “climate regulation, water and food provisioning, pollination of crops, tourism and recreation.” In other words, rivers on their myriad paths through landscapes are an indispensable source of life. 

Globally, rivers have increased in temperature by up to 1 C per decade since 2014, according to the panel. Salmon especially depend on cooler waters. As Dickson says, without the fish, everything else disappears as well.

But there’s still hope. The panel also noted “there is evidence that protection and restoration of ecosystems builds resilience” which can help river systems to continue supporting and benefiting species — including humans.

‘Salmon is where we connect’

The Upper Bulkley floodplain is a perfect proving ground for restoration work. The area is home to “some of the most intense public and private land use in the Skeena watershed,” according to SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. 

This is a region where farming, forestry and mining play starring roles in the economy and the pickup truck reigns supreme. Not everyone here sees eye-to-eye on issues, whether that’s vaccines, religious beliefs, politics or pipelines.

Against this backdrop of divides, the riparian restoration project is a model for collaboration — it’s a partnership between conservation organizations, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and environmental consultants, with buy-in from farmers and landowners. 

“The Wet’suwet’en supported the restoration project directing [the work] and were involved in the development of the project through collaboration within our networks,” David de Wit, natural resources manager with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, told The Narwhal. 

Those networks include the Upper Bulkley roundtable, a working group that meets regularly to discuss watershed initiatives, and the Morice Watershed Monitoring Trust. The trust is a science-based collaborative group that includes de Wit, on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, and representatives of the provincial government. The group folds in monitoring data collected by industry to support its goals: “water quality and quantity suitable to sustain the health and well-being of the Wet’suwet’en.” He says they collectively secured funding to cover two years of work related to the project.

Field researchers walk the banks of a river in northern BC

Verbeek, who is a member of the roundtable, downplays her role in the project, saying she just helped facilitate connections with landowners with properties on the river. But it’s clear she gets people — she’s a good listener and knows the community. She says the lynchpin that brought people together is salmon.

“I’ve been working in Houston for many years and sort of struggled to find something that captured the imagination of the community — until I started with salmon,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, whether you’re a logger or an office person or teacher, whatever, salmon is where we connect. And so as soon as you start talking about things that are going to benefit the salmon, people want to be a part of that.”

She says part of A Rocha’s mission is to help bridge divides. Some of those divides, she says, are between settlers and Indigenous people and also between rural and urban dwellers.

“It’s fun to see people of all walks of life being part of it,” she says, beaming. “Because, yeah, we have so many things to be divided over — let’s find the things that we’re not and work on those.”

Changing the cycle

Adam Wrench, a local environmental consultant, was contracted to help lead the work.

Wrench, who is friendly and approachable, says projects like this — when added up across the landscape — have the potential to impact the entire watershed. 

“Over time, it’s going to give a chance for the water table to come up and rehydrate the land. And then you’re just creating this massive sink of energy and water and nutrients, hopefully changing the cycle.”

The cycle he’s referring to is a negative feedback loop, where the river continually bursts its banks because of the constrictions placed on it from development. When it floods, it flushes sediment from the surrounding land into the water. As it recedes, that land is left compacted and stripped of nutrients. 

“You can see here, right, there’s the railway,” he says, pointing across the river as a train rumbles past. “On the other side of that railway are huge sections of river that are no longer in play.”

“On the other side of that railway are huge sections of river that are no longer in play.” Adam Wrench
Aerial view of CN rail line, Upper Bulkley River and a local farm

He explains the natural floodplain once covered a much larger area of land. Now, all that’s left is Dickson’s farm.

“All that energy has nowhere to go,” he says. “What was happening here where they’re losing 15 to 20 feet a year, think about the amount of material that was going down the river from this one corner and it’s mind boggling. And then multiply that across the watershed.”

Natural cycles do see higher levels of sediment introduced into the water during spring flows and rivers are not static — they move and change. But this is different, he says, squinting in the sun as his phone chimes in his pocket. “It’s more where is that getting deposited? It’s covering spawning beds. It’s just totally destroying the hydrology.”

‘Money well spent’

On Dickson’s property, the meandering river lazily flows past a scrubby bank punctuated with what looks like the remains of a stand of trees, their tops lopped off haphazardly.

But these stumps didn’t grow in this spot — they were hammered into the crumbling riverbank to provide stability and, eventually, food for mycorrhizal fungi, underground fungal networks connecting plants to nutrients via their roots. Threaded throughout the site are young willow shoots that will hopefully establish themselves, growing up to not only protect the bank from flood-related erosion but also provide shade, keeping the river cool.

Tree stumps were hammered into the riverbank to prevent erosion while willow shoots establish root networks. Eventually, the stumps will rot away, providing nutrients and supporting the growth of underground fungal networks
Tree stumps were hammered into the riverbank to prevent erosion while willow shoots establish root networks. Eventually the stumps will rot away, providing nutrients and supporting the growth of underground fungal networks.

“Yeah, they came in and I got no complaints about it,” Dickson says. “It was a big learning curve, because it was something new for them — this whole concept is a new idea. I said: got to start somewhere.”

Wrench says while low-tech restoration has been around for awhile, no one had tried it here. And what works in one watershed may not work in another. 

The method comes with a lot of benefits, not just for the ecosystem and the farmers. It also provides employment. Whanau Forestry, a Smithers-based silviculture company, provided most of the workers.

Whanau owner Chris Howard says the project helped extend the season for a lot of his workers, most of whom come from communities with high levels of poverty and unemployment.

“This is good, significant wages, and there are skills being learned and built,” he says. “I think it’s money well spent.”

Howard says the workers — mostly Indigenous youth — live on reserves like Witset, Fort Babine and Tachet. There was even a family from Tachet that came as a package deal.

“Dad was slinging a chainsaw, doing some of those tasks, mom and daughter were doing a lot of the pruning and bucking down of the willow and whatnot. Everybody had a task and they rotated off of it.” 

The first attempts to sink the posts into the bank were unsuccessful so they rigged up an attachment on an excavator and used it to pound the posts in as deep as possible. Wrench notes that without the help and expertise of the landowners, the project would have cost a lot more, and maybe not happen at all. Farmers have deep knowledge of their lands — necessary to keep afloat in the competitive agriculture industry — and they typically have a lot of equipment at hand, things like tractors, trucks and backhoes. 

“We could get it done in short order, because of the landowners,” Wrench says. “If we didn’t have them involved, this would never have happened.”

“These posts are providing the physical structure to stabilize the bank to allow all this live vegetation we planted to root,” he explains, pointing out the fresh green shoots amidst the darker brown woody debris. “Using the stingers — which is a piece of steel pipe we use on a fire pump blasting water — we can plant some of these live willow cuttings and cottonwood cuttings down six feet plus into the ground.” 

Once those cuttings are established, the root network spreads throughout the entire bank.

“The idea is, by the time these posts rot off and that structure disappears, there should be a fibrous root mat all the way through this corner to hopefully stabilize it.”

And the posts have another role to play. They also reintroduce nutrients that were stripped away after generations of farming, he explains. 

Wrench says they completed work at six sites, including two on Dickson’s farm.

“The need for restoration of this type in the Upper Bulkley is essentially unlimited,” he says. “Nearly every outside corner on the river where it hits a field looks like what we started with on Adrienne’s property.”

He adds the work being done here can also be done on other impacted rivers, but cautions each river is unique and comes with a different set of needs.

“They’re all different: different soils, different climate.” The trick, he says, is to get your hands dirty and see how it goes — the cost of low-tech restoration is a fraction of larger-scale mitigation work.

Baby lamprey eels
Cindy Verbeek shows a baby lamprey eel, scooped up from the riverbank.

Trying to find funding for people, not machines

While the restored banks held up well during high flows in the spring, no one is sure how successful the approach will be in the long term — and the funding to replicate the work on other properties in the watershed dried up this year. 

The project was originally funded through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, a $27 million B.C. government program in partnership with the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Watersheds BC. This year, the province rolled out another $30 million but the riparian restoration project didn’t make the cut. 

“Direct funding agreements totalling $15 million were made between the province and a number of [Healthy Watersheds Initiative]-funded organizations that met provincial criteria,” a representative of the initiative told The Narwhal. “Watersheds BC and MakeWay are partnering under the Indigenous Watersheds Initiative to steward the other $15 million of this funding specifically to support Indigenous-led initiatives that are advancing watershed health.” 

Wrench says the low-tech approach needs regular monitoring and maintenance in some cases, unlike flood mitigation projects that deploy big machines and riprap, a common sight near rail lines, highways and pipelines.

“We need to inventory what’s been done and what’s actually worked 10 years up, because we have this idea this is gonna just pop into healthy riparian, but we don’t know that for sure,” he adds. “It’s the part that’s not as flashy because you’re not just pounding out the sites, but it’s the most critical piece.”

“Funders really love to fund stuff, but they don’t necessarily want to fund people,” Verbeek says. “We can have all the stuff we want but if you don’t have the people to use the stuff to do good things, then you’re not doing anything. That’s one of the biggest struggles for us, especially with our little project, is finding funding for people.”

Verbeek puts on hip waders, preparing to walk the river and check for spawning salmon and see if there are any changes to the habitat since she was last here. The ecosystem supports the likes of otters, beavers, lamprey eels, wild cats like bobcat and lynx, bears, moose and more. Even though it’s a river that still has a lot of healing to do, even with the train rushing past, it’s undeniably beautiful.

On the far bank, she scoops up the sand, looking for baby lamprey. Her eyes light up as she shares her dream.

“The Upper Bulkley River is the most negatively impacted river in the Skeena watershed because of human activity. And I just think: wouldn’t it be cool if in the next 100 years, this would be the most positively impacted watershed in the Skeena system because of human activity?”

Going with the Flow is made possible with support from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, which administers the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, and the BC Freshwater Legacy Initiative, a project of the MakeWay Foundation. As per The Narwhal’s editorial independence policy, no foundation or outside organization has editorial input into our stories.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Actor Ian Somerhalder aims to find 'Common Ground' in Congress with agriculture-focused documentary

TV fans know him from “The Vampire Diaries” and Netflix’s “V Wars,” but now, thanks to his work in Washington, lawmakers know Ian Somerhalder as an advocate for sustainable farming. The performer isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty as he works to break through the partisan gridlock with his new documentary touting the benefits...

TV fans know him from “The Vampire Diaries” and Netflix’s “V Wars,” but now, thanks to his work in Washington, lawmakers know Ian Somerhalder as an advocate for sustainable farming. The performer isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty as he works to break through the partisan gridlock with his new documentary touting the benefits of regenerative agriculture, “Common Ground.” “You could almost argue that we are so divided that the only thing that we have in common is the ground: The soil is our common ground,” Somerhalder told ITK of the new film, which he executive produced and helped narrate. “People say … what is this regenerative agriculture, and why should I care? And it's so simple. Regenerative is the use of planned grazing methods and using living, growing plants at scale to sequester enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, to stick it back in the ground where it belongs.” “When you do that, you've fed all those vital microorganisms in the soil — healthier soil, healthier plant, healthier people, healthier planet. It's a really positive cascade of all the things that you can do when you build a regenerative agricultural economy.” A sequel to 2020’s “Kiss the Ground,” the new film doesn’t mince words, warning viewers, “With much of the world’s soil turned to dust, we have found ourselves in a race towards extinction.” “If the soil dies, we die,” a narrator says in the documentary, which won the Human/Nature award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. But, Somerhalder told ITK, seducing audiences with sod proved to be a muddy mission for him and directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell. “One of the greatest challenges is making soil sexy,” said the Louisiana-born entertainer, who has stepped away from acting and moved to a farm outside Los Angeles with his wife, Nikki Reed. “But when you really dive into it, you realize a couple of things,” he said. “This isn't about politics; this is about policy. This is about people, and people that can benefit from really good policies,” Somerhalder said, noting the film focuses on farmers, including rancher Gabe Brown and Rick Clark, who say regenerative practices have helped give their land an incredible environmental and financial boost. “Lawmakers can come together over good policies,” Somerhalder said, urging Congress to reappropriate funds within the Farm Bill to pull “farmers off the drip” of the agricultural biotech companies. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) are among the officials who appear in the film. “Most Americans are not really conscious of how our food system is creating a Category 5 hurricane of disaster in everything that we care about,” Booker says in it. “We have a system that's hurting consumers, that's hurting our environment, that's hurting independent family farmers, that's hurting animals, that's hurting farm workers — just a morally bankrupt system, and we have to change it,” he adds. “I think when they go back to their districts,” Somerhalder continued of members of Congress, “they can look at the people in those districts and say, ‘Hey, listen I didn't just go to Washington and yell at people about a bunch of stuff. I came back with an amazing way to build this community because that's all I care about is right here.’” Laura Dern, Woody Harrelson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Momoa and Donald Glover join Somerhalder in narrating portions of “Common Ground.” Asked what he might say to critics who could argue they don’t need a bunch of Hollywood-types lecturing them about farming practices, Somerhalder replied, “If you're complaining about rich celebrities who think they have a mouthpiece, watch the film and you'll see that we're in a studio narrating. It's the Rick Clarks and the Gabe Browns that are out in front of the camera doing the work. “They're the real caretakers. So we're just an amplifier,” Somerhalder, a father of two, said. The 44-year-old actor is trying to get the word out about the film, which is hitting select theaters nationwide, claiming that the “big major streamers” are censoring it by refusing to add it to their lineups. Declining to name those media corporations, Somerhalder said they’re afraid “to go up against” major agrochemical firms. “If we have to literally release this film on my Facebook page, we'll do it. If streamers and big companies are going to censor our film, then we will release it every way we can without them.” With his intimate knowledge of the undead as Damon Salvatore on “The Vampire Diaries” and his experience on Capitol Hill, ITK had to know: Are there any vampires in Congress? “I think they're all drinking Vervain tea,” he quipped of the drink featured in the series that was toxic to vampires. “They are unable to be persuaded by any of us who want to do the good stuff,” he added. Fans often ask him what he’d do if he had the vampiric ability to control other people’s minds just by staring at them, what he’d do with it, Somerhalder said. “I would go straight to Washington and I would sit and have some really significant meetings and I would get them to just make better decisions. And it would be such a great superpower,” he said. “But for right now, the only superpower we have with ‘Kiss the Ground’ is building that movement, and the regeneration arm of ‘Kiss the Ground’ and building that out.” “Honestly this is I think the most exciting time in history, particularly in agricultural history, in this country,” Somerhalder said. “And no one is going to stop us.”

What are ‘planetary boundaries’ and why should we care?

We’ve become so good at using the Earth’s resources we’re endangering the systems we rely on.

NASAAs far as we know, there is exactly one planet in our Solar System – and the galaxy – which hosts life. And you’re on it. For the first 800 million years, Earth was dead. Then life began making itself at home. For over three billion years, lifeforms have helped shape their own environment. Earth’s energy balance (commonly known as the climate) and its interactions with trillions of species is the main determinant of environmental conditions. As you know, one species – ours – is exceptionally good at changing our environment to suit us. The problem is, we’re now too good at it. We chop down forests, remove mountains to get at ore bodies, take over grassland, fish out entire seas, create and unleash novel chemicals and pump huge quantities of nutrients from fertiliser into the system. These and many more undermine the hidden life support system on which we rely. What are planetary boundaries? Almost 15 years ago, this article’s lead author helped create something called “planetary boundaries” to make clear what damage we had done. We teased apart nine processes vital to the Earth system. Three are based on what we take from the system: biodiversity loss fresh water land use. The remaining six come from waste we deposit back into the environment: greenhouse gases (which cause climate change and ocean acidification) ozone depleting chemicals novel entities (plastic, concrete, synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms which owe their existence to us) aerosols nutrient overload (reactive nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilisers) If we keep our activities to a safe level, the sheer exuberance of life and the planet’s own processes can handle it. But in six out of nine vital life support systems, we have blown well past the safe zone. And we’re now in the danger zone, where we – as well as every other species – are now at risk. Here’s the sum total of our impact on the planet. You can see the areas we’re still within safe limits – and those where we are well past. Azote for Stockholm Resilience Centre based on analysis in Richardson et al 2023, CC BY-ND Our breach of boundaries is very new In the year 1900, there were around 1.6 billion humans – nearly all of them poor. Now there are 8 billion of us, and some of them are rich. And nearly all of us use fossil fuels, plastics, chemicals and products from intensive agriculture. It can be very easy to live our lives and only occasionally glimpse the reality. You might have flown over palm oil plantations where rainforest was. Seen blue-green algal blooms or fish kills. You might have wondered where all the animals or bugs were on a bushwalk. Read more: Humanity is in the existential danger zone, study confirms But when we zoom out and look at the sum total of our impacts, the story is clear. Put bluntly, we are eating away at our own life support systems. And this has happened extraordinarily recently. If we keep going, we risk triggering a dramatic and potentially irreversible change in living conditions. Like all other living organisms, we survive by using Earth’s resources. We once believed these resources were unlimited. But we now know there are hard limits. Take fresh water – essential to life on land. If we pump too much water from rivers, lakes and aquifers for farming, industry or cities, we risk hitting that hard limit. This isn’t hypothetical – places like India and California are close to that limit. Unsustainable use of groundwater in many countries is likely to trigger freshwater crises. India groundwater How are these boundaries calculated? Remember – the entirety of human civilisation, the flowering of culture, religion, agriculture and cities – has taken place only in the last 10–12,000 years. For the roughly 190,000 years before that, we were nomadic hunter-gatherers. What changed? The climate, for one. We entered a climate sweet spot, with relatively stable and warm conditions. Gone were the recurring ice ages. Many experts believe there’s a connection here – stable climate, rise of civilisation, though this is hard to establish with certainty. What we do know is we can thrive under these conditions. We don’t know for certain our civilisation as we know it can thrive if they are different. We would be foolish to risk pushing our supporting envelope to breaking point. That’s why we and many other independent scientists have worked as hard as we have to develop the framework of planetary boundaries and keep it up-to-date as new science comes in. Read more: It's not just climate – we've already breached most of the Earth's limits. A safer, fairer future means treading lightly How do we know if we’ve breached the boundaries? The Earth’s environmental conditions have changed many times in its long history. Climate is a good example here. We know the Earth looked very different when temperatures were higher or lower. Palms once grew in Antarctica. These swings from hothouse to ice age let us estimate the boundary beyond which our activities can upset the process. Palm trees once grew in an ice-free Antarctica. Shutterstock These are boundaries, not thresholds. When we cross one, it doesn’t trigger immediate disaster. And it’s entirely possible to bring our activities back from unsafe to safe. We’ve done it already in the 1990s, when international cooperation quickly phased out ozone depleting chemicals and stopped the dangerous ozone hole from getting ever-bigger. So how are we doing? Not great. In last week’s update, the research team found we had now gone beyond the safe zone into dangerous territory in six of the nine processes. We are still in the green for ozone-depleting chemicals. Ocean-acidification is still, just, in the green, and so is aerosol pollution and dust. But on climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, synthetic chemicals such as plastics, freshwater depletion, and nitrogen/phosphorus use, we’re well out of the safer zone. On these six, we’re deep in the red zone. We’re keeping the party going as long as possible. But it can’t continue indefinitely. The bill comes due. The faster we do for the other boundaries what we did for ozone-depleting chemicals, the safer all of us will be. Read more: Two trillion tonnes of greenhouse gases, 25 billion nukes of heat: are we pushing Earth out of the Goldilocks zone? Xuemei Bai receives funding from Australian Government, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), The Future Earth, and the Australian National University. She is affiliated with the Earth Commission.Katherine Richardson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

This Oregon Farmer Is Building a New Model for Indigenous Food and Agriculture

At her 6-acre Sakari Farms outside Bend, Oregon, Schreiner employs traditional ecological knowledge to cultivate regional first foods—foods consumed before European colonialization—and passes that expertise down to Native American youth. The operation started out with an urban nursery growing plants to makes salves, tinctures, oils, and lotions through Schreiner’s company, Sakari Botanicals. In 2018, the […]The post This Oregon Farmer Is Building a New Model for Indigenous Food and Agriculture appeared first on Civil Eats.

Like many Alaska Natives, Spring Alaska Schreiner (Chugach Alaska Native Corporation / Valdez Native Tribe) grew up exercising her subsistence rights with her family—gathering berries, digging clams with her mom, catching and cleaning fish alongside her uncles. She recalls being surrounded by endless natural bounty throughout her childhood in Valdez, a waterfront city situated near the head of a deep fjord in Prince William Sound. When she moved to Oregon in 2006, she noticed a contrasting lack in access to culturally relevant foods, which has been a driving force behind her decades-long work championing Indigenous food sovereignty through agriculture, advocacy, and activism. At her 6-acre Sakari Farms outside Bend, Oregon, Schreiner employs traditional ecological knowledge to cultivate regional first foods—foods consumed before European colonialization—and passes that expertise down to Native American youth.“We have created a template for a tribal farm, which operates very differently than a standard non-Native farm.”The operation started out with an urban nursery growing plants to makes salves, tinctures, oils, and lotions through Schreiner’s company, Sakari Botanicals. In 2018, the farm expanded and moved to the current high-desert property, which, in addition to growing crops such as peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, and herbs, also houses an Indigenous seed bank and a new community kitchen called Niqi Native Kitchen.“I have always been the nerd with my head in the soil trying to learn more,” she explains. “Many tribes in Alaska are very intertribal, sharing similar foods and waterways. There’s not a lot of access up there with highways, and a lot of [traveling is] done by air and water, so we’re always sharing. That’s what food sovereignty is: becoming self-sufficient while also helping others secure food for themselves. I wanted to create that sense of community here in Oregon.”She’s done just that, developing a hub for Native producers, chefs, and other folks to gather for education and inspiration. Today, Sakari offers hands-on farming and cooking classes, hosts long table dinners, and provides free tribal food boxes containing nutritious, culturally relevant ingredients to those in need—a pandemic initiative to help fight food insecurity among the local Indigenous community that has continued. The farm is not a nonprofit organization, so Schreiner depends largely on small one-off grants, crowdfunding, and limited wholesale revenue to finance Sakari’s many efforts—all of which center on traditional ecological knowledge.Spring Alaska Schreiner, owner of Sakari Farms outside Bend, Oregon. (Photo courtesy Schreiner)“We have created a template for a tribal farm, which operates very differently than a standard non-Native farm,” explains Schreiner, who has a background in natural resource management, soil science, and water conservation. “We only grow things once [a year], because Native people have always used the whole plant, including the seed. We don’t want to trash the soil by turning crops all the time; we have volcanic ash here, which is like moondust, with little to no water. And we’re protecting these traditional Native plants that we grow for communities like the Hopi Nation and the Oneida Nation in the seed bank.”Come autumn harvest after a short growing season of about 58 days, Sakari donates most of the yield to regional tribes with distribution assistance from state agencies. What remains is turned into teas, jams, sauces, and other shelf-stable products that are sold wholesale to Native-owned businesses and bear the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s Made by American Indians seal. “We’re growing this for our people,” Schreiner affirms. “I don’t want anyone eating out of commodity food centers anymore. We don’t just grow beans; we show you how to take care of the seed and plant, then use the beans to become self-sufficient—so that we’re not eating beans out of a can.”That’s where the new 900-square-foot tribal commercial kitchen comes into play, akin to chef Sean Sherman’s incubator Indigenous Food Lab. Two years in the making, Niqi Native Kitchen serves as a culinary playground for area tribes, aspiring chefs, and Native youth to train, develop recipes, and participate in workshops. It’s also home base for Sakari-employed chefs like Pao Rodriguez, who cook up fare such as buffalo empanadas, huckleberry pie, and blue corn cookies to be sold at farmers’ markets.A scene from the new 900-square-foot tribal commercial kitchen, where Native chefs can experiment with traditional ingredients. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Spring Schreiner)“We’re teaching youth how to do it from start to finish,” says Schreiner. “They can learn how to grow and harvest traditional foods, make their own recipes in the incubator kitchen, and market and sell their products. The farm is a safe space for Natives to come together, honor Indigenous traditions, and learn how to be Native again after experiences like displacement, generational trauma, and other factors beyond our control.” To further lift up Native producers, she also recently launched the Pacific Northwest Tribal Agriculture Guide, a free online resource that encourages consumers to buy from Indigenous entrepreneurs.Schreiner’s extensive advocacy work also often takes her off the farm to push for legislation supporting BIPOC growers and combatting climate challenges. For instance, her testimony was instrumental in the 2021 passing of Oregon’s $100-million drought relief package. This year, she has been involved in the state’s SB 530 natural climate solution bill (which was enacted in July as part of a larger climate-resilience package) and HB 2998 healthy soil bill (which did not pass).She serves on several national and regional agricultural boards and participates in organizations such as the Intertribal Agriculture Council, First Nations Development Institute, Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, and more. But she can’t do this work alone; Schreiner credits collaborators like Ben Jacobs, owner of Tocabe restaurant in Denver, Colorado, who has long cooked with Sakari-grown ingredients and promoted the farm’s products in the restaurant’s online marketplace.In 2022, the environmental nonprofit Ecotrust called Schreiner “a leader who looks to the future” when it gave her one of its prized Indigenous Leadership Awards. And that’s not where the community admiration ends.“To see Spring grow from a botanical grower to a full-scale farm that retails specialty foods demonstrates just how dedicated she is to revitalizing tribal food economies,” says Latashia Redhouse, the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s American Indian Foods director. “She has such an energetic girl-power personality that really ignites the network of tribal growers and entrepreneurs. Her impact is significant, as she leads many initiatives fueled by her passion to feed her family and community healthy and culturally relevant foods, all while being a good relative to the land, water, and environment.”“I’m working hard to represent Native women farmers, because there are so few of us,” Schreiner says of her policy work, which directly impacts the livelihoods of growers like herself. Since she and her husband, Sam (who serves as farm manager), purchased the Deschutes County farmland back in 2018, they have endured wildfires, hailstorms, flooding, and drought. In fact, Central Oregon has recently faced some of the worst drought conditions in the country, with neighboring Crook County spending 87 weeks in exceptional drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s worst designation.Sakari Farms offers a program that teaches youth how to grow and harvest traditional foods. (Photo courtesy of Spring Alaska Schreiner)“Here in the high desert, the tribal people are extremely resourceful; I’m just carrying on that tradition and making the farm as climate-savvy as possible,” says Schreiner. “We’re dealing with the worst climate situations right now, yet our crops look great. I think some of the blood memory in this ancestral seed is digging the drought. The Hopi corn from 200 years ago is like, ‘We’ve been waiting our whole lives for this.’ It’s 10 feet tall now, whereas it should only be 5 or 6 feet tall.”She believes that the practices she utilizes, which include growing cover crops and using controlled burns, can help fight climate change and prefers the term Native agriculture over “regenerative agriculture,” which she believes has been hijacked by conventional farmers hoping to benefit from greenwashing. But for traditional ecological knowledge to be effective in mitigating negative impacts, Schreiner says, it needs to be recognized and adopted on a larger scale. “For the future of food sovereignty, I hope that the agricultural industry starts acknowledging Native producers, paying us more, and learning the ways we’ve cared for the land since time immemorial,” she adds.To that end, Schreiner is optimistic that the 2023 Farm Bill will be a step in the right direction. “It’s really moving forward in a good way for Native farmers,” she says. “The Intertribal Agriculture Council has been pivotal for years, pushing for more representation at the table. And Zach Ducheneaux, who has a long history with the IAC and now runs the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, has really come out for us. We’re already seeing a shift for disadvantaged BIPOC farmers when it comes to access to disaster relief funds and different loan opportunities.” For instance, Sakari recently secured loans to put up a greenhouse to prolong the growing season through Akiptan, a Native-focused community development financial institution (CDFI).Adding another title to the long list of hats Schreiner already wears—mom, connector, ecologist, educator, activist, advocate, seed saver, Indigenous food warrior—she also recently co-produced a feature-length film, A Reflection of Life. The documentary delves into the climate change–induced water issues of the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on the effects on Native communities. It premiered in April and has since become a film festival darling; Schreiner is hopeful it will get streaming distribution soon in order to reach a wider audience.Just like the many initiatives underway at Sakari Farms, it all comes back to sharing knowledge for Schreiner. She aims to do more of that in the coming years, with a focus on policy work and storytelling. “The goal is to someday hand the farm over to tribal youth so that I can use my brain rather than my body at this point in my life,” she says with a laugh. “We don’t have a lot of advocates in Indian Country, and I’m really good at speaking up for myself and others. I’d like to spend more time sitting down with tribal members, listening to their needs, and helping make it happen.” Although that involves a slight shift in focus, it still very much reflects her life’s work: sharing her unique talents with the Native community.The post This Oregon Farmer Is Building a New Model for Indigenous Food and Agriculture appeared first on Civil Eats.

It’s not just coral. Extreme heat is weakening entire marine ecosystems in Florida. 

Anemones, sponges, and jellyfish are bleaching throughout the Everglades amid record temperatures. It's a troubling sign for Florida Bay and beyond.

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live. Summer afternoons on Florida Bay are a wonder. The sky, bright blue and dotted with clouds, meets the glassy water in a blur of blue that melts away any sign of the horizon. Wading birds rustle in the verdant branches of mangroves. Beneath the surface, fish and other creatures dart among tangled mangrove roots adorned with colorful sponges and corals. Out in the shallow flats, redfish forage for crabs, snails and shrimp hidden in fields of seagrass as manatees graze and bottlenose dolphins hunt.But this vast estuary, which by some estimates stretches at least 800 square miles — roughly the size of Tokyo — and comprises about one-third of Everglades National Park has looked very different lately. In the mangroves, anemones and jellyfish, stressed by unprecedented water temperatures, appear ghostly white. Suffocated fish and soupy patches of dead seagrass litter the sandy flats. Sponges and coral languish beneath thick sheaths of algae.This summer, as water temperatures across the Everglades reached triple digits, much of the nation’s attention focused on the Atlantic side of the Keys, where rapid bleaching devastated much of the Sunshine State’s beautiful coral reefs. But in Florida Bay, which sits on the west side of the Keys, many marine species have been fighting their own battle with bleaching and other effects of extreme heat, sending a strong, if silent, message about their own stress and the health of the essential habitat they inhabit. Normally resilient creatures are struggling to survive. The record heat has not only threatened individual species – an astonishing effect on clear display in the warm South Florida waters – but the expansive and interconnected habitats, stretching from the Florida Bay to the wider Everglades and beyond. “It’s not a grass problem, it’s not a coral problem, it’s not a sponge problem,” said Matt Bellinger, owner and operator of Bamboo Charters in the Keys. “It’s a complete ecosystem problem.”Jerry Lorenz, the state director of research for Audubon Florida who has decades of experience in Florida Bay, likens the risks facing the estuary to playing Jenga. “You can pull this piece, you can pull out that piece,” he said. “And you can pull out a lot more pieces. But eventually you’re gonna pull out one last piece that’s going to topple the whole thing. And that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re seeing here.”Nestled between the southernmost end of Florida and the Keys that stretch 180 miles westward toward the Dry Tortugas, this shallow estuary features swaths of luscious seagrass. These marine prairies cover the vast majority of the Bay floor and shelter lobster, shrimp, crab, and other creatures. Thousands of mangrove islands protect juvenile reef fish, invertebrates and nesting birds like the endangered roseate spoonbill. All of them play a crucial supporting role in a much larger ecosystem. The Florida Bay is intrinsically linked to the Atlantic side of the Keys, and many fish and other species make their home in both.A roseate spoonbill searches or food at a mangrove key on Florida Bay at Everglades National Park, Florida, in 2019. Robert F. Bukaty / AP Photo“A lot of these reef species go back into the Bay, treating it as a nursery,” said Kelly Cox, director of everglades policy at Audubon Florida. “There’s a lot of interaction between the ecosystems. So a healthy Florida Bay means healthy fish populations on the reef and vice versa. And that goes for crustaceans, it goes for sponges, it goes for all different types of fish and wildlife.”A vibrant and productive Florida Bay does more than allow wildlife to thrive. It boosts commerce. Beyond offering ample opportunities for sport and recreational activities, the estuary supplies a bounty of seafood.“Everything in our economy is somehow intertwined with our environment,” Cox said. “We’re talking about expansive reliance on healthy marine ecosystems in the state of Florida.”The health of the Bay and surrounding areas declined significantly in early July during the four consecutive days that Earth experienced the hottest average global temperatures ever recorded. Weeks of intense heat, exacerbated by the lack of usual summer rain showers, saw shallower areas of the Florida Bay top 100 degrees. During the scorching weather, neighboring Manatee Bay recorded a startling water temperature of 101.1 degrees, which might be a world record. While snorkeling recently on the western edge of Florida Bay,  Lorenz recalled it being too hot to swim. “It was uncomfortable,” Lorenz said. “When I swam up under the mangroves, it was jam-packed with fish. I just had this impression go through my head that these guys are trying to stay in the shade.”Boats are anchored at Manatee Bay off the Florida coast near Key Largo, on Friday, July 28, 2023. Triple-digit ocean temperatures are stunning even in Florida, where residents are used to the heat. Daniel Kozin / AP PhotoThe astonishing effects of the heat wave on the Bay may be partly responsible for the extensive coral bleaching and mortality seen across the reef of the Atlantic side. This year’s intense heat evaporated a lot of the Bayside’s water, leaving it extremely salty and, therefore, dense. In normal conditions, when natural currents pull the Bay water into the Atlantic, the warmer water sits on the ocean surface. But this time, something unusual happened. The extremely hot and salty Bay water sank – a phenomenon known as a “reverse thermocline” – below the cooler Atlantic ocean water, and smothered coral reefs down to 30 feet below with its extreme temperatures, resulting in mass coral bleaching and, in some cases, instant death. Hotter, saltier water poses a grave threat to marine species that can only withstand so much stress before their metabolic processes begin to fail. Such strain can lead to bleaching, seagrass die-offs, algal blooms, and fish kills. If the salinity of Florida Bay rises to that of the Atlantic more than 10 or 15 days a year, “it knocks the whole system out of balance,” Lorenz said.Dramatic increases in water temperature can throw a potentially catastrophic knock to the entire ecosystem where even the most robust and resilient species, including glass anemones, relatives to coral, are fighting to survive. These common and resilient spindly invertebrates, normally difficult to see due to their brown hues, are now easily spotted in ghostly white clusters; a sign that something is very wrong.Bleaching occurs when corals, anemones and jellyfish, pushed beyond their thermal limits, eject the algal cells in their tissues. Left without their colorful symbiotic counterparts, the animals are vulnerable to predation, starvation and disease, said Anthony Bellantuono, a biological sciences post-doctoral researcher. In his laboratory at Florida International University, marine biologists have tested these creatures at temperatures between 89.6 and 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, in this recent heat wave, the waters of the Bayside and southern Everglades reached heights never tested in the lab. Bellantuono has been stunned to see the widespread bleaching, which likely extended across the length of Florida Bay and beyond, among such a robust species.“Anemones are these super resilient creatures that are highly tolerant to stress,” Bellantuono said. “It should be a bit of a concern that they’re bleached so thoroughly. They don’t bleach often and it is really, really bad when they do.”And it’s more than animals at risk; the seagrass they nestle in and the mangroves that harbor them are threatened as well. That could reduce the amount of oxygen in the water, creating another threat for the wildlife of the Bay.Beside mermaid’s wineglass and green feather algae, a curlique anemone shows signs of stress due to warming water temperatures in the Florida Bay Gabriela TejedaCompounding the problem, Florida Bay battles an insufficient influx of freshwater. Natural outflow across the Everglades has been significantly disrupted with much of its historic flow now diverted by canals, roads, agriculture and development – and considerably less ending up in the estuary. Insufficient freshwater to balance the influx of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from the Gulf of Mexico, coupled with extremely hot temperatures, could leave the water uninhabitable. Conservation organizations such as the Audubon Society have been working to educate and empower audiences to engage, through citizen science and efforts to push policymakers to act, with an environmental challenge that otherwise might seem insurmountable. “It’s really, really hard to sit on the sidelines,” Cox said. “We’re not going to be able to pull seagrasses out of the water, right? We’re not able to pick up wading birds and move them to other locations. These are things that Mother Nature is going to have to handle on her own and we have to hope that the interventions that we’ve designed so far are enough to sustain a lifeline.”Cox said that the northeastern portion of Florida Bay that her team covers has yet to see any seagrass die-offs this season, primarily due to long-term efforts – such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the single largest restoration underway in the South Florida ecosystem – to facilitate the flow of freshwater, much of which comes from rain, through the Everglades and into the Bay. “The mechanisms and interventions that we put in place are providing that little glimmer of hope that we might make it through this heat wave and that the seagrass beds are going to be able to hold on in the national park,” she said. “That’s really encouraging for us.”The Chief Science Officer of the Everglades Foundation wades in the swamp during a 2023 seagrass tour of the Everglades. Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel / Tribune News Service via Getty ImagesYet, both Lorenz and Bellinger confirmed they had seen fish and seagrass die-offs in other parts of Florida Bay. And the heat is far from over. Above-average temperatures are expected over the next several months. For those in South Florida, the effects of persistent extreme heat and high water temperatures in the Florida Bay and the surrounding marine ecosystems are a sign of a potentially dire future.“These are warnings,” says Bellantuono. “When the most tolerant creatures in our shallow waters are all bleaching, starkly white … It’s an alarm bell for these ecosystems. Will these ecosystems be as strong as they have been? It seems uncertain — when we see the ecosystem melting around us, I hope it makes people as scared as they should be about this.”The videos in this story were created by Gabriela TejedaThis story was originally published by Grist with the headline It’s not just coral. Extreme heat is weakening entire marine ecosystems in Florida.  on Sep 18, 2023.

Is it time for the world to take a siesta?

An idea from the past could provide a way to cope with extreme heat.

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.Security guards and tourism guides at the Parthenon in Athens made headlines this summer when they went on strike during the scorching afternoons of a July heat wave that reached up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Greece.“The extreme weather conditions continue to plague the country, despite this the Ministry of Culture did not take drastic measures – as it should have – to protect workers and visitors,” said the Panhellenic Union of Employees for the Guarding of Antiquities in a press release. The union stated that multiple people were seen fainting and suffering from heat stroke at the Acropolis, the complex of monuments that includes the Parthenon, prompting them to strike. In fact, when the guards and guides refused to work during the hottest hours of the day they essentially revived an old tradition in warm Mediterranean countries: the siesta. A siesta consists of a midday break that usually includes a large meal and a nap and is most common in Southern European countries like Greece, Spain and Italy. The siesta used to be sacred but modern times have seen the decline of the practice.​​“The siesta is as old as humanity, and in fact, it goes beyond humanity. And you can see a lot of other species just simply being sensible with hot weather,” said Dr. Simon Quilty, a physician and researcher at Australian National University in Canberra. Quilty is lead author on a paper that examines cultural responses to extreme heat. Quilty also pointed out that the siesta has faced pushback in recent years, notably in 2016, when the Spanish Prime Minister proposed banning the practice. An art prints street vendor takes a nap outside the Museo Del Prado in Madrid, on August 6, 2023 as the country is bracing for the third heatwave of the summer. Oscar Del Pozo/ AFP“There’s a strong push back on that cultural institution,” said Quilty. “That reflects our values and our values over the last 15 to 20 years, and certainly over the last 50 years, [which] has increasingly become about money and material gain. And that is the culture that is destroying the environment.”The word “siesta” evolved from the latin phrase “sexta hora,” which means the sixth hour after dawn, a time when the sun is high and it’s best to take a break from extreme heat with a hearty meal and a nap. Climate change was a key force behind a summer that made history as the hottest on record. A new analysis from the nonprofit organization Climate Central found that 98 percent of people on Earth experienced hotter temperatures that were more likely because of climate change. Even places that have not typically practiced the midday break are now looking to it after unflinching heat. In Germany, a famously efficient country, a public health group suggested that employers and workers get comfortable with the idea of preventing heat-related illnesses, including taking a siesta. It could also be an effective option to avoid extreme heat in the United States, according to José María Martín Olalla, a professor of physics at the University of Seville in Spain.“Practicing siesta in the United States is meaningful in the sense that you will be avoiding exposure to the central [hottest] hours of the day,” said Olalla.But there are numerous cultural differences between Spain and the U. S., especially when it comes to the work day. Olalla pointed out that the labor cycle differs immensely and so do mealtimes. Siestas function not only as a rest for what used to be mostly manual labor, but also exist as a designated time for a large family meal. “For instance, in Spain, lunch is usually the main meal of the day,” said Olalla. “In [the] United States, lunch is kind of a smaller meal.” The siesta is ubiquitous with the culture in Spain, even as urbanization has meant changes for how people take siestas. Siestas have recently declined in popularity, “not every single Spaniard is practicing siesta,” said Olalla. Still, he said that extreme heat caused by climate change could spur a revival.Temperatures globally are expected to keep rising, and so are heat deaths, according to a study from researchers at Texas A&M University. Researchers found that deaths could top 200,000 annually by the end of the century, a fivefold increase. A siesta could help curb some of those effects, particularly for outdoor workers, according to Mayra Reiter, program director of occupational safety and health at Farmworker Justice, an advocacy organization based in Washington D.C..“Whether it’s a siesta or a cooldown break, workers need regular rest periods when they are working in the heat,” said Reiter. “Because otherwise, they face higher risk of accidents on the job, kidney damage from dehydration and overheating, and heatstroke, which can be deadly.”People taking their riverbank siestas at Pirineos Sur International Festival of Cultures in Sallent de Gallego, Huesca, Spain. Nano Calvo/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesIn the U.S., employers are already experimenting with different solutions to extreme heat. In the wake of the hottest summer on record, companies are deploying ice-filled vests, sweat stickers, and paid cooling breaks to offset the hotter temperatures that workers are exposed to. In the agriculture industry, which often requires hours of labor-intensive work to plant, grow, and harvest crops, farmworkers are harvesting plants at night to avoid high daytime temperatures. Dr. Brenda Jacklitsch, a health scientist and heat expert at the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, an agency within the Centers for Disease Control, backs the idea of a siesta for outdoor workers, especially those who are more exposed to extreme heat.Construction workers are also at risk for mortality due to heat, and one mother of a construction worker who died last summer in Texas is suing his employer for $1 million. The mother believes the company could have providfed more safeguards against the heat and prevented his death.“Hotter times of the day, very often are, you know, middle of the afternoon, when the sun is right overhead,” said Jacklitsch. “And so being able to schedule some of the maybe most intense or the hardest work tasks for maybe the early morning hours or possibly even later in the evening or after it starts to cool down might be appropriate.”One of the main ways that siestas could benefit outdoor workers is by helping regulate the core body temperature of workers. Siestas can help by reducing both internal and external sources of heat, according to Nathan Morris, an environmental physiologist and professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. The idea of working with and not against extreme heat, might run counter to the culture of the United States, but Quilty brings up that Indigenous traditions and cultures in tropical regions have always understood the danger of extreme heat.“People just simply understand that it’s dangerous to be in the hot weather,” he said. One of Quilty’s co-authors is Norman Frank Jurrurla, a Warumungu elder, who wrote about how traditional Indigenous practices are responsive to the environment. Siesta is one example of these environmentally sensitive practices, another is to pay attention to emerging drought conditions and shift to where more consistent water sources are. One constraint of the study though, is using historical data which is limited in its reach, especially as climate change is pushing the world to temperatures too hot to survive in.  It could be good to revive the tradition in the U.S., says Olalla, where overwork and sleep loss are regular parts of American culture that degrade people’s overall health.“It’s pretty clear from our standard knowledge that siesta is good,” said Olalla. So good that despite recent declines in Spaniards practicing siesta, Olalla still makes it a regular part of his schedule. “By the way, your email finds me practicing siesta,” said Olalla in a video interview, in a testament to siesta’s enduring power. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Is it time for the world to take a siesta? on Sep 14, 2023.

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