On the East Bay Tree Cuts and Herbicide Use

This document is an outline of arguments against the planned destruction of many thousands of tall trees in East Bay forests, ostensibly to reduce fire risk. Cutting the targeted tree species will take away much of the fog drip, shade cover, and wind breaks that retain moisture and reduce fire risk. Preventing eucalyptus stumps from resprouting requires ongoing herbicide applications in natrual areas. Areas that have been cleared of tall trees tend to become filled with fast-spreading ground fuels such as French broom, thistles, and poison hemlock. And much more, as outlined below.

The content here is mostly quotes from a variety of documents, including government and university publications and scientific studies. Click on the brief document reference just after a quote to jump to the full document itself on the web, or click the footnote numeral to see more information about the document in references at the bottom. This outline is compiled by Ken Cheetham using leads from others and web searches. Ken's photos of some of the threatened trees are at bapd.org/treestalk.html. This document is at bapd.org/treenotes.html. Last modified 2016-10-31.

Update 2016-09-16: As part of a legal settlement with the Hills Conservation Network, and in consultation with the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), FEMA has terminated its funding to UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland (and its funding to EBRPD was already limited to clearing brush). So the trees may have won a reprieve for the moment, but the parties are likely to seek funding elsewhere, and therefore this document will remain here as written previously.

Background: Three governmental bodies in the East Bay region around Oakland, California have applied for and been granted several million dollars in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where the money is to be spent mostly on destroying many thousands of tall trees in forested areas, and then repeatedly applying herbicides to stumps to prevent regrowth. The three bodies are the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), the City of Oakland, and the University of California at Berkeley. The rationale is to reduce the risk from wildfires to human lives and homes, prompted by the catastrophic 1991 firestorm in Oakland. The specific targeting of blue gum eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia trees in the FEMA documents is more in line with sentiments for eradicating non-native species, but the official reason must be fire mitigation in order to legally receive emergency preparedness funds from FEMA. Some parties are intent on converting the East Bay Hills entirely to grassland with scattered scrub brush, which was the state of Native American land management in this ever-changing area at the moment when Europeans came onto the scene.

The official FEMA documents are on the web at http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/100411. Groups opposing this plan include Save the East Bay Hills, Death of a Million Trees, the Hills Conservation Network, the TreeSpirit Project, the Coalition to Defend East Bay Forests, East Bay Pesticide Alert, and CUIDO (Communities United in Defense of Olmstead). Sign petitions against the cut at MoveOn and at Care2. Contact information for local officials who are behind the plan can be found at www.saveeastbayhills.org/take-action.html.

Contents

The Plan to Destroy Many Trees and Repeatedly Apply Herbicides
      They Still Intend to Destroy as Many Trees, Spread Over More Years
      Herbicides Will Be Applied to Stumps Twice a Year
Tall Trees in Forests Were Not Principal Agents in the 1991 Fire
      The 1991 Oakland Fire Started in Dry Grass and Spread Next to Dry Brush
      The 1991 Oakland Fire Was Fueled Largely by Homes and Adjacent Vegetation
      Oakland's Task Force On the 1991 Fire Says Not to Target Eucalyptus
Tall Trees in Forests Are Rarely Principal Agents in Residential Fires
Eucalyptus Trees Are Not Worse than Other Trees
      Eucalyptus Trees Are Not a Larger Fire Risk than Many Other Plants
      Eucalyptus Trees Are Not Water Wasters
      Eucalyptus Groves Have Diversity Similar to Oak and Bay
      Eucalyptus Releases Less Global Warming Carbon in Bad Fires
      California Bay Laurel is Spreading Sudden Oak Death
Tall Trees Are Not a Larger Fire Risk than Other Trees
      Ember Flight Distance Is Based on Convection Column Lift, Not On Tree Height or Species
Trees Are Not a Worse Fire Risk than Chaparral Brush
      Chaparral is More Prone to Serious Fire than Tall Trees
      Areas Cleared of Mature Trees Tend to Fill with More Flammable Plants
Living Trees Reduce Fire Risk
      Trees Provide Fog Drip to Add Moisture to the Area
      Trees Provide Shade to Retain Moisture In Ground Vegetation
      Trees Reduce Wind Speed, Slowing the Drying of Vegetation and the Spread of Fire
      Trees Themselves Are Relatively Fire-Resistant
      More Fires Start in Stumps than In Living Trees
      Wood Chips Will Bring a New Fire Risk and Will Not Decompose Rapidly
Even Thinning Tall Trees In a Dense Forest Appears to Be Bad for Residential Fire Safety
Other Ways In Which Urban Trees Are Helpful Ecologically
      Urban Trees Absorb Air Pollutants
      Urban Trees Sequester Substantial Carbon
      Eucalyptus Trees Provide Nectar and Pollen Year-Round
      Eucalyptus Trees Provide Habitat for Raptors and Other Birds
Problems with the Herbicides Approved for This Project
      Problems with Roundup (Glyphosate)
      The Mobility of Garlon (Triclopyr)
      Herbicide Manufacturers Promote the Invasive Species Movement
There Are Better Ways to Reduce Fire Risk to Homes
Drastic Plans Call for Some Perspective in Nativist Orthodoxy
      Predominant "Native" Grassland in the East Bay May Be Fairly Recent Itself
      "Non-Native" Plants Are Usually No Worse than Others


The Plan to Destroy Many Trees and Repeatedly Apply Herbicides

They Still Intend to Destroy as Many Trees, Spread Over More Years

Herbicides Will Be Applied to Stumps Twice a Year


Tall Trees in Forests Were Not Principal Agents in the 1991 Fire

"Risk Factors: Extreme fire risk created by five year drought, low humidity, and Diablo winds; highly combustible natural fuels, inadequate separation between natural fuels and structures; unregulated use of wood shingles as roof and siding material; steep terrain, homes overhanging hillsides, narrow roads, limited access, limited water supply. ... Cause: Strong winds caused rekindle of grass fire from previous day, accelerated by wind. Crews were on scene overhauling when fire erupted. Cause of original fire was undetermined."  FEMA's 1991 report on the Oakland firestorm (PDF) (1991-10-30)  (10)

The 1991 Oakland Fire Started in Dry Grass and Spread Next to Dry Brush

The 1991 Oakland Fire Was Fueled Largely by Homes and Adjacent Vegetation

Oakland's Task Force On the 1991 Fire Says Not to Target Eucalyptus

The City of Oakland formed a task force after the 1991 firestorm to analyze the causes of the fire and to recommend ways to avoid similar tragedies in the future. The task force's final report explicitly states that targeting particular species of non-native trees is not an effective strategy.


Tall Trees in Forests Are Rarely Principal Agents in Residential Fires

A modest buffer between forests and neighborhoods can protect homes from the flames and radiant heat of an intense crown fire in the forest. Then fire-resistant roofing and decks can protect against ignition from embers that are blown ahead of ANY sizable fire, including ones that are fueled by the houses themselves in a neighborhood.

"Computational modeling and laboratory and field experiments that describe the heat transfer required for ignition have shown that the large flames of burning shrubs and tree canopies (crown fires) must be within one hundred feet to ignite a home’s wood exterior. ... This [photo] is a typical WUI [Wildland-Urban Interface] fire disaster scene with unconsumed and green vegetation surrounding burned structures (Grass Valley Fire). The homes ignited from low-intensity surface fires and firebrands (lofted burning embers). The trees then caught fire from the burning homes. The totality of destruction is due to the lack of fire suppression rather than the intensity of the initial ignition sources. ... Thus, given ignition-resistant homes, extreme wildfires can spread to residential areas without incurring WUI fire disasters. ... Preventing wildfire disasters thus means fire agencies helping property owners mitigate the vulnerability of their structures."  USDA Forest Service scientist Jack Cohen in Forest History Today (PDF) (2008-10-01)  (16)

"Detailed study of the destruction from the Grass Valley Fire showed that high intensity forest fire was not a direct factor in igniting the vast majority of homes. Many private properties had not been adequately treated for fuels, and a high number of homes in the area were constructed from highly flammable materials, including wooden decks and shake roofs. Rogers et al. (2008) concluded that 'homes, not the vegetation, were the primary fuel by which the fire spread.'"  USGS and USFS on the 2007 California Wildfires (PDF) (2009-09-01)  (17)

"Trees often get a bad rap because of the potential to spread fire in the crown, but that is seldom a hazard to structures."  University of California Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide  (18)


Eucalyptus Trees Are Not Worse than Other Trees

Eucalyptus Trees Are Not a Larger Fire Risk than Many Other Plants

Eucalyptus Trees Are Not Water Wasters

Eucalyptus Groves Have Diversity Similar to Oak and Bay

Eucalyptus Releases Less Global Warming Carbon in Bad Fires

California Bay Laurel is Spreading Sudden Oak Death


Tall Trees Are Not a Larger Fire Risk than Other Trees

"Low thinning will be more effective than crown or selection thinning, and management of surface fuels will increase the likelihood that the stand will survive a wildfire. ... Selective removal of large, fire-resistant trees added to the problem, so that by the late 20th century, we had widespread continuous forests with, on average, smaller trees and much greater fuel loads. ... The fourth principle in a fire resilient forest strategy for the short-term is to keep the large trees in the stand if they are present. These are the most fire-resistant trees in the stand, as they have the tallest crowns and thickest bark (Peterson and Ryan, 1986). ... A textbook low thinning will simultaneously increase canopy base height, while crown and selection thinning will not. The latter two methods will generate more income, because they focus on larger trees (Hartsough, 2003), but large trees are also the most fire-resistant ones."  Agee and Skinner on forest fuel reduction (PDF) (2005-01-01)  (41)

Ember Flight Distance Is Based on Convection Column Lift, Not On Tree Height or Species


Trees Are Not a Worse Fire Risk than Chaparral Brush

Chaparral is More Prone to Serious Fire than Tall Trees

Areas Cleared of Mature Trees Tend to Fill with More Flammable Plants


Living Trees Reduce Fire Risk

Trees Provide Fog Drip to Add Moisture to the Area

Trees Provide Shade to Retain Moisture In Ground Vegetation

Trees Reduce Wind Speed, Slowing the Drying of Vegetation and the Spread of Fire

Higher winds both (1) dry out vegetation faster, and (2) spread fire faster.

Trees Themselves Are Relatively Fire-Resistant

Bark insulates trees against fire, and trees hold more moisture than most other plants.

More Fires Start in Stumps than In Living Trees

Wood Chips Will Bring a New Fire Risk and Will Not Decompose Rapidly


Even Thinning Tall Trees In a Dense Forest Appears to Be Bad for Residential Fire Safety

Analysis: Synthesizing information from the quoted documents above and others, it appears that even thinning tall trees in a dense forest is counterproductive for residential fire safety, as long as a modest buffer of at least 100 feet is maintained between forests and residences. The argument for thinning is that it reduces the total fuel load, and therefore reduces the intensity of the worst possible fire spreading through the crowns of trees. That is true within the forest itself, but a buffer between the forest and residences prevents an intense forest fire from entering the residential area itself, or directly igniting structures with its flames or higher radiant heat. The remaining problem is the usual one of embers that are blown ahead of the fire. But embers are blown ahead of any significant fire, and embers can be blown a long distance from any burning source (not just from the tops of tall trees) by first being lifted in a convection column above the fire. More embers will be blown from a more intense fire, but it takes only a single ember landing on an untreated wood roof shingle to ignite a house. So thinning tall trees in a forest does not solve the problem of spot fires that are started by flying embers.

But thinning tall trees in forests does increase the likelihood (and therefore the frequency) of forest fires. It decreases fog drip and shade cover and increases wind speed through the remaining trees, which reduces moisture in surface fuels. And it leaves more room for the growth of more flammable brush near the ground where fire usually spreads. All of this increases the likelihood of a forest fire igniting in the first place, and the increased wind speed also makes a fire spread faster. This meshes with simple common sense, where it's obviously cooler and less dried out inside a dense forest than in grasses and scrub brush.

A more effective approach to residential fire safety is to (1) maintain a buffer between forests and residential areas, and (2) to reduce the susceptibility of homes to flying embers igniting new spot fires on or near homes. Ember safety can be maintained using fire-resistant roof shingles and wood decks, and by reducing dry and dead vegetation very near homes (especially weeds underneath wood decks, for example). It is up to homeowners in high fire risk areas, such as near windy ridges, to assume the primary responsible for this. There is no need to destroy the wondrous tall trees in forests, which among many other benefits help to maintain human sanity by providing a comforting natural environment, especially in urban areas that are now packed with more novel surroundings like buildings, pavement, and cars.


Other Ways In Which Urban Trees Are Helpful Ecologically

Urban Trees Absorb Air Pollutants

Urban Trees Sequester Substantial Carbon

Statements by a local official that urban deforestation is insignificant for global warming compared to the Amazon are unfounded.

Eucalyptus Trees Provide Nectar and Pollen Year-Round

Eucalyptus Trees Provide Habitat for Raptors and Other Birds

"Trees create and hold soil, forests become “sponges” that conserve and recycle water, and trees and forests between them sustain most terrestrial life ... They also play a vital role in the management of the atmosphere, as absorbers of carbon dioxide. ... “Trees are among the most prominent and critical organisms on Earth ...” says Thomas Crowther, an ecologist at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies ... But ... the fact remains that the tree cover has fallen by 46% since the end of the last Ice Age. As human populations have grown, more and more forests have been cleared, and humans now fell or burn 15 billion trees a year."  Climate News Network article (2015-09-04)  (76)


Problems with the Herbicides Approved for This Project

Problems with Roundup (Glyphosate)

The Mobility of Garlon (Triclopyr)

Herbicides with relatively high mobility and a relatively longer half life are better able to travel farther from the point of application.

Herbicide Manufacturers Promote the Invasive Species Movement


There Are Better Ways to Reduce Fire Risk to Homes

"Several of the risk factors that make an area susceptible to an interface fire can be mitigated, to reduce the level of risk: * Use of drought-tolerant and fire-resistant landscaping. * Fuel control measures including controlled burns [risky], clearing of dead wood, cutting tall grass and brush, grazing to thin vegetation in particular areas and similar measures. * Brush clearance areas around structures and fuel breaks in strategic locations. * Use of fire resistant roof and exterior wall materials. * Adequate access roadways for emergency vehicles and exit roadways for residents. * Water storage and distribution systems adequate for fire protection purposes. * Development of exposure protection systems, incorporating technologies such as class A foam."  FEMA's 1991 report on the Oakland firestorm (PDF) (1991-10-30)  (87)

"There were five major investigations after the fire, from which emerged dozens of recommendations. Among them were the use of compatible firefighting equipment, standardization of radio communications, better incident command structure, and emphasis on ember-resistant roofing materials and defensible space around homes."  EBRPD 20-year report on the 1991 firestorm (2011-10-01)  (88)

"Communities that clear brush and other fuel away from homes, require fire-resistant roofs and provide firefighters with defensible space, like Secesh Meadows in 2007 and Wilderness Ranch in 2012, can survive even fast-spreading crown fires."  Idaho Statesman article on increasing wildfires in the US West (2015-09-11)  (89)


Drastic Plans Call for Some Perspective in Nativist Orthodoxy

Predominant "Native" Grassland in the East Bay May Be Fairly Recent Itself

"Non-Native" Plants Are Usually No Worse than Others

"Procedures detailed in the Plan describe cutting down trees and applying herbicide to their exposed trunks and remaining root systems. ... Elders in the local Native community say that All Life is Sacred. We oppose extermination of the trees and plants that have taken root on this Sacred Burial Ground, regardless of whether they are endemic species or relative newcomers."  Ohlone, Miwok, and Pomo elders on preserving the Glen Cove Sacred Site at Vallejo, California  (95)


References

1.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2014-12-03).  "East Bay Hills Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction (final version, executive summary)", section ES.7.2.1.  http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861409909-0d76d1d9da1fa83521e82acf903ec866/Executive_Summary_508_508.pdf

2.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2014-12-03).  "East Bay Hills Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction (final version, executive summary)", section ES.7.2.3.  http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861409909-0d76d1d9da1fa83521e82acf903ec866/Executive_Summary_508_508.pdf

3.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  "East Bay Hills Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (Frequently Asked Questions)".  Accessed 2015-08-09. http://ebheis.cdmims.com/Files/FAQ%204-1-13.pdf

4.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2014-12-03).  "East Bay Hills Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction (final version, full report)", Section 3.4.2.2.1 Strawberry Canyon-PDM.  http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861153335-5f909f406d0fa9b986a86e1fb31ab9d5/Final%20EIS%20Sections%201%20-%2011_508%20reduced.pdf

5.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2014-12-03).  "East Bay Hills Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction (final version, full report)", Section 4.13.3.3.7 UCB.  http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861153335-5f909f406d0fa9b986a86e1fb31ab9d5/Final%20EIS%20Sections%201%20-%2011_508%20reduced.pdf

6.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2014-12-03).  "East Bay Hills Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction (final version, full report)", Section 1.1.3 EBRPD.  http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861153335-5f909f406d0fa9b986a86e1fb31ab9d5/Final%20EIS%20Sections%201%20-%2011_508%20reduced.pdf

7.  Bill Murray (2015-06-02).  "Battle erupts over future of Oakland hills eucalyptus trees".  KTVU-TV.  http://wn.ktvu.com/story/29221185/battle-erupts-over-future-of-oakland-hills-eucalyptus-trees

8.  "Sierra Club files suit to protect East Bay hills from fire risk".  Sierra Club Yodeler.  http://theyodeler.org/?p=10490

9.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (2014-12-03).  "East Bay Hills Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction (final version, full report)", Section 4.5.2.2.2 Review of Historical and Current Subapplicant Programs and Activities Related to Herbicide Use.  http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1416861153335-5f909f406d0fa9b986a86e1fb31ab9d5/Final%20EIS%20Sections%201%20-%2011_508%20reduced.pdf

10.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (1991-10-30).  "The East Bay Hills Fire (USFA-TR-060)", page 2.  http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/tr-060.pdf

11.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (1991-10-30).  "The East Bay Hills Fire (USFA-TR-060)", pages 18-19, 48, 49.  http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/tr-060.pdf

12.  US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (1991-10-30).  "The East Bay Hills Fire (USFA-TR-060)", page 10.  http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/tr-060.pdf

13.  David Maloney (2009-07-30).  "My Word: Task force report confirms trees are not primary fire hazard".  Contra Costa Times.  http://www.contracostatimes.com/montclarion/ci_12946185

14.  [City of Oakland] Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration (1992-02-03).  "[Final Report]", page 31.  http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org/Additional_Resources_files/sc001635e6.pdf

15.  [City of Oakland] Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration (1992-02-03).  "[Final Report]", page 37.  http://www.hillsconservationnetwork.org/Additional_Resources_files/sc001635e6.pdf

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18.  "University of California Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide".  University of California.  http://ucanr.edu/sites/Wildfire/Surroundings/Trees/

19.  USDA Forest Service.  "Index of Species Information - Umbellularia californica".  Accessed 2015-08-12. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/umbcal/all.html

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25.  East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) (2012-08-23).  "Claremont Canyon CC001 - Stonewall Fuels Management Prescription", page 2.  http://www.ebparks.org/Assets/_Nav_Categories/Stewardship_Resources/Fire/CC-Claremont+Cyn/CC001_Rx.pdf

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29.  Kurtis Alexander (2016-08-11).  "Hot tub wiring identified as cause of devastating Valley Fire".  San Francisco Chronicle.  http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Hot-tub-wiring-identified-as-cause-of-devastating-9135005.php

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31.  Paloma Esquivel, Angel Jennings, Shane Newell (2016-08-17).  "Homes burn, thousands flee as out-of-control brush fire chars more than 25,600 acres in Cajon Pass".  Los Angeles Times.  http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-blue-cut-fire-20160816-snap-story.html

32.  David Maloney, former Chief of Fire Prevention at Oakland Army Base (2009-10-29).  "Letter to EBRPD on their Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Plan".  http://www.saveeastbayhills.org/uploads/4/7/8/8/47884333/maloney.pdf

33.  Jiregna Gindaba, Andrey Rozanov (2004-12-09).  "Photosynthetic gas exchange, growth and biomass allocation of two Eucalyptus and three indigenous tree species of Ethiopia under moisture deficit".  Forest Ecology and Management.  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112704007844

34.  Tesfaye Teshome PhD, Wondo Genet College of Forestry, Debub University, Awassa, Ethiopia (2009-12-01).  "Is Eucalyptus Ecologically Hazardous Tree Species?".  Ethiopian e-Journal for Research and Innovation Foresight.  http://www.nesglobal.org/eejrif4/index.php?journal=admin&page=article&op=download&path%5B%5D=8&path%5B%5D=92

35.  AP de Almeida and H Riekerk (1990-01-01).  "Water balance of Eucalyptus globulus and Quercus suber forest stands in south Portugal".  Forest Ecology and Management.  http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/19910653584.html;jsessionid=FBE17EBC78A266E3500BAB0BD250DF12

36.  Kevin M. Clarke, Brian L. Fisher, and Gretchen LeBuhn (2008-07-29).  "The influence of urban park characteristics on ant (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) communities".  Urban Ecosystems.  http://www.researchgate.net/publication/225802443_The_influence_of_urban_park_characteristics_on_ant_%28Hymenoptera_Formicidae%29_communities._Urban_Ecosyst

37.  Dov F. Sax (2002-02-20).  "Equal diversity in disparate species assemblages: a comparison of native and exotic woodlands in California".  Global Ecology and Biogeography.  http://www.brown.edu/Research/Sax_Research_Lab/Documents/PDFs/Equal%20diversity_Sax2002.pdf

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39.  Jeannette Warnert (2006-05-03).  "UC tries to stop northward movement of sudden oak death".  University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  http://ucanr.edu/News/Sudden_Oak_Death/?uid=777&ds=191

40.  Peter Fimrite (2011-07-14).  "Saving oak trees by chopping down bay trees".  San Francisco Chronicle.  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/07/14/BAMR1K98CL.DTL

41.  James K. Agee (College of Forest Resources, University of Washington), Carl N. Skinner (USDA Forest Service) (2005-01-01).  "Basic principles of forest fuel reduction treatments".  Forest Ecology and Management.  http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/skinner/psw_2005_skinner(agee)001.pdf

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