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WEST 2000: A Case Study of Natural Resource Management Investment in the NSW Rangelands

1Tim Ferraro and 2Don Burnside

1West 2000 Plus, PO Box 1840, Dubbo NSW 2830
URS Australia Ltd, Level 3, Hyatt Centre, 20 Terrace Road, East Perth WA 6004
Email Web site


This paper presents selected outcomes of an evaluation of the $17.5 million WEST 2000 Rural Partnership Program. Data from a range of primary and secondary sources, including direct inquiry of stakeholders (n = 253), Goal Attainment Scaling and Benefit Cost Analysis of selected measures is included. The study found that most of the program’s measures had a positive impact on the Western Division, with approximately 50 per cent of the landholders having some contact with the program. However, the regional impact of the measures varies greatly from high in the case of training activities, to low for some of the on-property support. Further, the benefit cost ratios for some natural resource management investments are less than desirable. Brief suggestions for future natural resource management investment in the Western Division are provided.


Rangelands, natural resource management, evaluation, structural adjustment.


The Western Division comprises 325,000 km2 of western NSW (Figure 1). The climate is characterised by hot summers, mild winters and low rainfall. Average annual rainfall varies from 500mm in the north east (around Walgett) to 150mm in the far north west (Date, 1992). Using nationally adopted definitions (ANZECC and ARMCANZ, 1999) the entire region is classified as rangeland.

Figure 1: The Western Division of NSW including main roads, rivers, local government areas and towns.

Around 95% of the Western Division is used for grazing purposes. Grazing is primarily sheep, but there are increasing numbers of cattle and goats. Cropping occurs in selected areas along the eastern and southern boundaries of the Western Division (particularly in the north east). Extensive irrigated agriculture and horticulture is also present in pockets along the Darling and Murray Rivers (Baker et al, 1999).

The environmental, ecological and social pressures facing the Western Division have been recognised for many years. (For recent reviews see Fitzhardinge, 2001 or Kerin, 2001). In the early 1990’s, these pressures coalesced and landholders in the Western Division were faced with a range of issues described as having “no parallel” (WEST 2000, 1999). The key issues, which had their origin in an atmosphere of depressed commodity prices, record drought and high interest rates, included declining property viability, a reduction in natural resource capacity, limited training and vocational opportunities, lack of opportunities both for off-farm income and on-farm diversification and social dysfunction owing to socio economic pressures.

Working together, landholders and the state and federal governments developed the WEST 2000 Rural Partnership Program, which is one of 12 such programs addressing chronic socio-economic and environmental problems in rural areas of Australia. WEST refers to Working for Equity and Sustainability Together. The NSW and Commonwealth Governments, drawing from the Rural Adjustment Scheme, the Natural Heritage Trust and State Agencies provided $17.5 million for WEST 2000, which operated from 1997 through to June 30, 2001.

The objectives of the Rural Partnership Program as a whole was to achieve:

  • Profitable and self reliant rural industries which operate competitively and can adapt to changing market, economic and resource conditions;
  • Sustainable management of the natural resource base; and
  • Robust, equitable and prosperous communities.

Within this context, the specific objective of WEST 2000 was to contribute to a competitive, viable and self-sustaining Western Division, through the provision of measures to enhance property productivity and natural resource management.

WEST 2000 focussed on providing assistance in natural resource management, rural restructuring and training and skills development (Table 1). Most WEST 2000 funds (60%) were distributed directly to landholders in the form of grants, with a lesser amount going to projects which indirectly assisted landholders (30%). The remaining 10% of funding was used for program management purposes.

This paper presents the findings of the final evaluation of WEST 2000 for the program overall and also for the natural resource management measures. It is heavily based on an independent evaluation undertaken early in 2001 (URS, 2001). Copies of the full report, which includes an evaluation of all measures can be obtained from the authors.


The evaluation reviewed the effectiveness of the WEST 2000 investments, interpreted as the extent to which program outcomes achieved program objectives.

Primary data for the evaluation were derived from several sources:

  • A telephone survey of randomly selected Western Division landholders (n = 173).
  • A consultation process which involved detailed discussions with (landholder) grant recipients across the Western Division (n = 37).
  • Focus group meetings in Bourke, Broken Hill, Wentworth and Cobar involving non-landholder stakeholders including. Agency staff, rural financial counsellors, local government and agribusinesses (n = 40).
  • Data on hand including funding applications and evaluation sheets and interviews with WEST 2000 Staff and Management Board


Objective of Measure


1. Productivity enhancement and property build up

Long term viability, productivity and profitability for properties in the Western Division


2. Improved information and skills base

To improve the availability and accessibility of information relevant to management in the Western Division


3. Maintenance of a sustainable natural resource base

To enable landholders to bring about strategic and long term change to the management of total grazing pressure


4. Training and skills enhancement

Through enhanced skills, pastoralists are able to increase productivity and develop off-farm skills


5. Productivity and business management

To develop through research and development extension enhanced management strategy options for pastoralists


6. Alternative industries and biodiversity conservation

Increase pastoralists options to diversify by introducing more economically viable alternative enterprises, whilst conserving the biodiversity of the region


7. Enhanced rural counselling services and support

To provide complementarity to the re-establishment component, and to reinforce and support the rural counselling service


8. Re-establishment grants

To facilitate re-establishment by allowing landholders who have taken the decision to exit the industry to leave with dignity


9. Institutional reform

To identify and remove the institutional impediments to reform in the region


10. WEST 2000 Management Board

To implement, develop and oversee the WEST 2000 Program


11. Communications strategy

To achieve community awareness and commitment to the WEST 2000 Strategy and encourage the uptake of the measures available


12. Staff support

To manage the Program effectively and efficiently


13. Evaluation and review

To assess the outcomes and the success of the WEST 2000 Rural Partnership Program


14. Woody weed and rabbit strategy

To improve the level of understanding and participation in implementing rabbit eradication programs amongst all landholders
To engage widespread landholder involvement and participation in woody weed control programs


15. Other productivity elements

To promote productivity and sustainability in the Western Division, including enterprise diversification
To facilitate drought proofing of enterprises in selected areas of the Western Division



Table 1: WEST 2000 measures, objectives and funding allocations.

Secondary data included information available in the public domain, Annual Reports, previous evaluations and consultancies and previous landholder surveys.

The face-to-face consultations utilised Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS), which is an internationally recognised evaluation method for determining progress towards program-level objectives. WEST 2000 objectives were framed as key questions around the indicators so that respondents could indicate the degree to which they believe the objectives are being achieved.

Where feasible, benefit-cost analysis was undertaken to determine the public and private returns to WEST 2000 investment, with the previous work done by Hassall and Associates (1999) used as an important point of reference.

Results and Discussion

Results are provided on the overall response to WEST 2000 and for the impact of the natural resource management measures. Copies of the full report can be obtained from the authors.

Overall response to WEST 2000

WEST 2000 has been generally well regarded by landholders in the Western Division. The telephone survey found that the perceived the impact of the Program was between neutral to very positive. Almost no one rated the Program as having had a negative impact. The most positive impacts were on “the environment” followed by “economics” and “community” (Figure 2).

Responses from 173 landholders contacted during the telephone survey

Ratings (WEST 2000 role): 1 – big positive impact; 7 – big negative impact

Figure 2: Perceived impact of the WEST 2000 Program.

The mean Goal Attainment Scores (GAS) for each of the Measures, as provided by the participants in the consultation process, provide a good picture as to the community’s perception of progress made by WEST 2000. Overall, the responses from those interviewed suggest that the community perception is that the Program as a whole was delivered appropriately (Figure 3).

In rating the relative value of the different measures, three measures were perceived to have achieved the expected level of success, including maintenance of a sustainable natural resource base, training and skills enhancement, and enhanced rural counselling services and support. In contrast, re-establishment grants, institutional reform, and productivity and business management objectives were perceived to have achieved less than the expected level of success (Figure 3).

The comments received in the consultation process generally indicated the grant-based projects worked well for some individuals but there is a question about their impact at an industry or regional scale. Some considered a need for a greater emphasis on wider regional needs, including directing effort to addressing social issues, Aboriginal issues, and the future of regional towns as well as grazing properties. This was similar to findings of the Western Lands Review (Aslin et al. 1999). The balance between restructure, productivity improvement and community development probably needs clarification and detailed explanation to the community.

Responses from 33 graziers and 33 non-graziers contacted through the consultation process

Scores range from 1 (most unfavourable outcome) to 5 (most favourable outcome).

Figure 3: Summary Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) Scores for WEST 2000 Measures. See Table 1 for measures.

Measure 3 – Maintenance of a sustainable natural resource base

The objective of this measure was to “enable landholders to bring about strategic and long term change to the management of total grazing pressure.” The objective had a clear emphasis on providing landholders with the capacity for improved decision-making to deliver desired outcomes, rather than funding implementation directly. A number of projects were funded under this measure (Table 2).


Grants approved

Funds allocated ($‘000s)

Piping artesian bores

20 (22 bores)


Management burning grants

7 projects


Total grazing pressure



Western Division Investigations



Trials and demonstrations of TGP management



Investigation into biological control of woody weeds*



Investigation into biodiversity and woody weeds*



Living with woody weeds*



Adaptive management for woody weed control



Review of kangaroo survey methodology*



Tools and techniques for assessing TGP*



Best practice for TGP*



* Non-grant projects

Table 2: Projects delivered in Measure 3 of WEST 2000.

Most of the funds committed to non-grant projects were used to generate additional knowledge. A review of the reports generated by these projects reveals that they have not delivered substantial benefits to the WEST 2000 Program. In particular, the projects dealing with woody weed technologies and management, and methodologies for managing total grazing pressure have not advanced either science or practice in these areas where there is already abundant technical information. There appears to be little value in investing any further applied research activities in these areas. Conversely, extension projects such as the paddock scale demonstrations and the production of the ‘glovebox guides’ have been well received. There will continue to be a place for carefully targeted and well designed extension activities.

The grant- based projects provided assistance to individual landholders in the management of total grazing pressure and fire and to groups of landholders for capping and piping free-flowing artesian bores.

Piping Artesian Bores

This project linked to the existing Cape and Pipe the Bores Program and provided supplementary funding for piping works. This project exceeded its target with current outputs as follows:

  • 22 bores capped
  • 300 km bore drains replaced
  • 700 km pipe laid
  • 5250 ML/year water saved
  • 344,000 hectares watered by pipe system
  • $3.7m total cost

With total pastoral industry usage from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) at 24,000 megalitres/year (WMC Ltd 1998), the water savings through this measure represent 3.6 per cent of the total.

The water saved has an economic value. For instance, the average cost of water for domestic and commercial uses in Australia is about $1,000 per megalitre. Assuming that half of the water ‘saved’ is available for other uses in 20 years time, the value of the saved water in current dollars will be $230 per megalitre, or $600,000. The water would only need to be used for about seven years after this time to recover the value of the current investment. While this case is very hypothetical, it suggests that developing an economic case for public investment in bore-capping is relatively easy to demonstrate, particularly where there are existing alternate high value uses of the water saved. This supports the findings of Hassall and Associates (1999) and their recommendation for a 80:20 cost sharing arrangement between government and landholder for bore capping and piping.

Grants for Total Grazing Pressure management.

Seventy seven properties have accessed funds for a range of projects including building self mustering facilities, modifying paddock and watering layouts and fencing to country types. The average contribution from WEST 2000 was $11,700 per applicant. This project has been popular and available funds have been committed.

In determining the financial returns from a sample of these grants, the approach taken was to use whole of property areas where projects were undertaken or to use the grazing radius for trap yards and watering point projects. The costs per hectare of the sample projects reviewed ranged from $1 to $26 per hectare, with WEST 2000 funds providing up to half the total cost in each case. The total costs were compared against property values and the additional productivity needed to make such investments viable (Table 3).

Most sheep productivity gains for these projects occur in periods when feed is scarce and implementation of TGP allows for better management of dwindling resources. More significant productivity gains will mainly be derived from increased efficiency of kangaroo harvesting and feral goat removal and reduced stock management costs. However, the analysis by Hassall and Associates (1999) suggested that the return from additional feral goat removal and reduced non-domestic grazing pressure would only support a commercial investment of about $1 per hectare in TGP systems. This suggests that some of the projects reviewed may not be profitable.



Total Area

Water Points

TGP Area



Fencing and 4 trap yards







Fencing – split a paddock







11 ground tank enclosures














Management burn and trap yard







Fencing, and trap yard







4 trap yards







1 trap yard







3 ground tanks







6.9 km fencing + trap yards







Water points and 11 km fencing







Table 3: Total Grazing Pressure - Funded Activity Costs as part of Measure 3 of WEST 2000.

The consultation process revealed that the projects supported through this measure have been well received. Most comments concerning the measure were directed towards the Total Grazing Pressure (TGP) projects. As an aggregation of practical research and extension projects, the investment in this Measure is providing both an acceleration of, and an increase in, the total amount of work undertaken in developing TGP.

Several comments suggested that the natural resource management investments would benefit from a more integrated approach for their design, funding and implementation – as illustrated in the remark ‘give priority to integrated applications, rather than single issue application.

Measure 14 – Rabbit and Woody Weed Strategy

The objectives of this measure were ‘to improve the level of understanding and participation in implementing rabbit eradication programs amongst all landholders’ and ‘to engage widespread landholder involvement and participation in woody weed control programs’. The projects funded under this measure were all grant-based to individual businesses to facilitate on-ground activity.

Rabbit control

There has been a long-term commitment to rabbit removal in the South of the Western Division. A separate program run by the South West Rabbit Control Group operates in this area and has been effective in stimulating significant rabbit control activity. WEST 2000 made a grant of $15,000 available for rabbit warren ripping, with a provision that the grant be matched by the applicant on a dollar for dollar basis. This was subsequently increased to two WEST 2000 dollars for one landholder dollar. Seventy five landholders took advantage of the grants, investing $400,000 from WEST 2000 in removing rabbits from 200,000 hectares.

A random sample of successful applications for assistance with rabbit control was used for the benefit cost analysis. The rabbit data that was provided was analysed to gauge a cost per hectare for the control work (Table 4)

The available data indicates a cost of around $2.70 per hectare or about $11.80 per DSE. These costs are difficult to equate to benefits because so much depends on widespread and effective control over a period of time and before and after stocking capacities. One approach is to determine the break-even point at which the investment is covered by increased productivity over a 10 year period (discounted at 7 per cent). On this basis, an investment of $2.70 per hectare in rabbit removal will need to be rewarded by an increase in stocking rate of about 14 per cent, or an increase in per sheep productivity by the same amount to ensure that the investment is fully returned after 10 years. Assuming this level of ‘break-even’ productivity increase is attainable, the 200,000 hectares that have been made ‘rabbit free’ will generate an additional $84,000 in income to landholders. Further assuming that 30 per cent of this is returned in taxation, the benefit on the public investment of $0.40 million is about $25,000 per annum or 6.25 per cent.


Cost $



















































































*Using Hassall and Associates (1999) estimate of net present benefits of $2.17 Ha

Table 4: Benefit Cost Ratios for Rabbit Control Activity in WEST 2000.

If the landholder requires a return over a shorter period, say five years, the increase in productivity will need to be sustained at 22 per cent from the time of rabbit removal to recover the investment. While this level of increase could be ambitious, some research data suggest that stocking rates of this order are feasible in the absence of rabbits (Saunders and Kay, 1999). Without follow-up control work at property and district scale, much of this investment may be undone.

Woody weed control

WEST 2000 made available a grant of $10,000 to each applicant for woody weed control via a number of measures which led to the establishment of perennial grass pastures. The grant needed to be matched by the applicant on a one dollar to one dollar basis.

Grants for woody weed control have been keenly sought, with 282 landholders matching $1million received from WEST 2000 with $1.25 million of their own funds to make 120,000 hectares ‘woody weed free’. The most popular means of woody weed control were raking, blade ploughing and chemical usage, with a lot of the work targeted at areas of properties where improved access is required for stock mustering and handling (e.g. in holding paddocks).

Use of fire as a management tool, a technology long advocated as part of overall management (Noble 1997), has proved much less popular, although the benefit cost ratio for this approach has been shown to be much higher (see Hassall and Associates 1999). Anecdotal evidence suggests that woody weed gemination occurred in some areas in 1998 and 1999, and has been dramatic after the heavy rains in late 2000. WEST 2000 staff have worked hard to generate interest and involvement in the use of fire as a preventative tool in woody weed management, and have allocated $180,000 to demonstrations and grants. $40,000 has also been invested in 7 demonstration burns through Measure 3. They have also developed an information package to encourage applicants to put woody weed control within the context of wider pasture management.

A random sample of successful applications for assistance with woody weed control was used in the benefit cost analysis as well as three demonstration activities (Table 5). The findings from these investigations confirms the value of keeping areas ‘open’ as compared to removing woody weeds from areas of dense infestation.


Total Cost $

Area (ha)



Blade Ploughing & Chemicals





Crocodiling, Raking Firebreaks















Large scale demonstration burn and improved TGP management





Management Burn





Chemicals & chipping





Management Burn





Chemicals – selected application





Large scale demonstration burn and improved TGP management – Coolabah





Management Burn – Louth





* based on net present value of returns for clearing severely infested land - $15.95 per hectare

** based on net present returns for retaining land as ‘open - $4.81 per hectare

Table 5: Benefit Cost Ratios for woody weed control activity in WEST 2000.

Where asking prices for grazing land are in the order of $30 per hectare, these data show that some control activities are costing more than the value of the land, and presumably are over-valuing the long term productive value of the land. Aside from arguments that controlling small areas prevents further spread, these costs are not justifiable.

One reason offered for high investments in woody weed control is for targeted action in to improve the logistics of stock-handling. While this may appeal to individual landholders and make management easier, a high investment in clearing a few hundred hectares for management convenience does not offer a meaningful public benefit. This activity is better regarded as part of normal enterprise management.

The benefit-cost ratios used two scales of productivity increase, to be captured over a 20 year period, discounted to current dollars at 7 per cent per annum. Based on the literature and local experience, clearance of dense stands of woody weeds is assumed to increase productivity three-fold, from one sheep to 12 hectares to one sheep to 4 hectares (Hassall and Associates 1999, Murphy 1992). This equates to a return of $15.95 per hectare in current dollars and is used in caluculating the BCRs in the top four examples in Table 5.

The value of preventing woody weed increase has a smaller return, estimated at $4.81 per hectare in current dollars for land that is already ‘open’ and which is kept in that state through a combination of fire and chemical use (Hassalls and Associates1999). Using that figure suggests that most, but not all of the examples given in the lower half of Table 5 will return positive Benefit Cost Ratios.

Overall activity in rabbit and woody weed control

Thirteen per cent of respondents to the survey have been involved in woody weed control, with the same percentage involved in rabbit control as new activities for them over the last two years. Significantly, in each case, just under 70 per cent of these respondents were funded for this work by WEST 2000. Given that these were new activities for these respondents, the data suggest that WEST 2000 was instrumental in their decision to undertake the work. In total, 49 per cent of people stated that they are involved in woody weed control as part of their environmental management.

For both technologies, those people who undertook the work felt that it will have a moderately favourably impact on their viability, but this was rated lower than investments in improved animal husbandry, water management and business planning. When asked about intended new activities for them over the next two years, 12 per cent said they would be into woody weed control, with three-quarters of these people indicating they will seek funding support. However, only 2 per cent said they will commence rabbit control over the next two years.

Many people who have done work with grant funding assistance have not done additional work on their own. This confirms the suggested very low returns, and may also highlight the difficulty faced in raising funds for capital investments. The WEST 2000 Program have used this as an argument for investing in woody weed control – on the basis that a public benefit is being gained from topping up grazier contributions. However, there was no targeting of woody weed control into areas where public values such as biodiversity may be at risk. A best practice approach would invest in mild infestations on otherwise productive land adopt adopt adaptive and integrated management of which woody weed control is only one technique (Noble 1997).

Landholder perceptions of their environmental management

The telephone survey provided data on demonstrated landholders’ perceptions of environmental management in the Western Division as well as on their property. Management changes being made to improve performance were also provided. Respondents had a wide range of views about the trends in environmental management in the Western Division and on their property. On average, they considered environmental management in the region and on their own properties to be improving slightly. The most common response was that WEST 2000 had a positive impact on environmental management in the region (Figure 4).

Involvement in activities specifically targeting environmental management on properties appears to be widespread, with only 11.6 per cent of respondents indicating that they were not involved in any specific activities (Table 6).

Responses from 173 landholders contacted during the telephone survey

Ratings (regional and ‘own property trends): 1 - improving ; 7 - declining

Figure 4: Preceived trends in environmental management in the Western Division.

Responses from 173 landholders contacted during the telephone survey


Total count

Percentage of group

No involvement



Installing infrastructure for managing total grazing management



Reducing domestic stocking rate



Fencing to land type



Woody weed control



Improving the distribution of watering points



*total adds to more than 100 per cent because some respondents are involved in multiple activities

Table 6: Landholder involvement in activities improving environmental management.

Conclusions and Implications

This paper presents a small proportion of the information used to evaluate the WEST 2000 Rural Partnership Program. The primary conclusion is that the program has been conducted very largely according to the intentions and plans established in the agreements which established WEST 2000. Most of the planned outputs have been achieved and approxiamtely 50 per cent of the grazing businesses in the Western Division have had some contact with the program.

In the context of this paper, the key question is the degree to which WEST 2000 is achieving lasting and beneficial change in the condition of the natural resources in the Western Division with a level of investment which reasonably balances public and private benefits. This question is set within a larger concern about how government investment in private landholder behaviou can be best structured to maximise the public benefits in terms of improved condition of the natural resources. In short, are programs like WEST 2000 able to deliver sufficient public returns to justify their investment in private business performance?

The bore capping and piping project is clearly a sound investment for public dollars, based on the value of the water saved. There is also evidence that encouraging the sensible adoption of technologies to manage total grazing pressure will have long-term public and private benefits. Conversely, the Benefit Cost Analyses for the woody weed control and rabbit control projects indicate sub-optimal financial outcomes for landholders and the public. Further, the current approach to woody weed control is unlikely to yield much in the way of improved environmental outcomes.

A central issue for landholders is their ability to invest in natural resource managmeent technologies that have limited private and public benefits. If the long term economic benefits do not outweigh the costs of these activities, graziers will continue to require external support, which will always be too little to meet the needs at whole-of-industry scale, even assuming that the government investment leverages significantly more landholder effort. Even in the case of bore capping and piping, which has a clear public benefit, the level of public investment required to make a meaningful difference in water wastage will be huge.

About one third of the respondents indicated they will continue and do more in managing natural resources without external support provided they have sufficient funds. The other two thirds would not have undertaken any work without WEST 2000 assistance. The level of work undertaken without assistance is likely to be an indication of low financial reserves, as much as it is an indication of the financial gain from improved land management.

The assumption in these projects is that non-dollar returns will come from benefits in terms of improved range condition and achievement of defined environmental values. However, achievement of environmental aims must occur within a regional context. This requires regional planning including the establishment of clear goals, followed by targeted investment at locations and situations where these goals can be achieved. Random allocation of funds for control or prevention of woody weeds (and rabbits) across the landscape will be neither cost-effective or cost-efficient in achieving environmental goals.

While there is no argument that woody weed infestation and rabbit grazing are major problems for grazing management and natural resource outcomes in the Western Division, a focus on these problems as stand-alone issues is diverting attention from the need for an integrated approach to grazing management. In particular, further investment is high cost control of serious woody weed infestations is not a sensible or appropriate use of government funds.

Investment in natural resource management projects (including woody weed prevention and rabbit control) needs to be directed into activities that will yield maximum public and private benefits. This suggests aligning future investment strategies with regional natural resource management goals and objectives. The Western Catchment and Lower Murray-Darling Catchment Plans should provide a basis for developing regional priorities. This will shift the investment from woody weed and rabbit control per se, to a more balanced and profitable investment in natural resource management that includes grazing demonstrations and participative development of better grazing technologies.

The main implication of these conclusions is that significant government investments into on-property natural resource management need to recognise the regional implications of these investments. Further, investments in property-buildup and debt reconstruction should be used to leverage support from grant recipients for programs in ‘enterprise-based conservation’ to improve the net sum of benefits that arise from programs like WEST 2000 and its successor, WEST 2000 Plus.

While maximising the value of the government investment through careful targeting will be critical, we recognise that this may cut across landholder demands (or expectations) for widely spread assistance. This situation will always result in a level of unavoidable tension for investment managers, such as the WEST 2000 Management Board. However, it is likely that demands from the public for tangible returns from its investment in natural resource management, either directly or through landholder action, will become increasingly persuasive.


The opinions in this paper do not necessarily represent those of the WEST 2000 Plus Management Board or the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation.


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