Why We Need an "Ecological Ethics"

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Why We Need an "Ecological Ethics"Author(s): Ben A. Minteer and James P. CollinsSource: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Aug., 2005), pp. 332-337Published by: Ecological Society of AmericaStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3868567 .Accessed: 26/06/2014 05:38Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. .Ecological Society of America is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Frontiersin Ecology and the Environment.http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=esahttp://www.jstor.org/stable/3868567?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspREVIEWS REVIEWS Why we need an "ecological ethics" Ben A Minteer and James P Collins Research ecologists and biodiversity managers frequently have to contend with difficult ethical questions dur- ing the course of their work. Yet there is no established approach or field within professional or practical ethics devoted to helping researchers and managers identify and reason through these complex ethical and philo- sophical issues. Unlike biomedical scientists and clinicians, ecologists and biodiversity managers lack an explicit scholarly forum such as bioethics, that can help them to analyze the complicated ethical situations they encounter in the field, the laboratory, or the conservation facility. Here we present a series of real world cases to illustrate some of the current ethical challenges faced by research ecologists and managers. We call for a new integrated and interdisciplinary field of concrete ethical inquiry - "ecological ethics" - that will fill an impor- tant gap in the practical and professional ethics literature, as well as provide ecological researchers and man- agers with a critical support network and resource base to improve ethical decision making. Front Ecol Environ 2005; 3(6): 332-337 Science has a familiar and often provocative history of raising ethical questions with broad social implica- tions. From iconic cases of scientific misconduct, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, to the debates over developing nuclear technology in the 1950s and 1960s, to ongoing and emerging concerns about the morality of cloning and stem cell technology, the public and scientists alike often question the practices, motives, and social impacts of scientific research. The rise of bioethics, engi- neering ethics, and research ethics as distinct subfields in applied ethics indicates a longstanding interest in, and professional concern about, the moral implications of the biomedical and technical sciences. Ecological research seems to be an exception to this pat- tern within the larger "science ethics" community. To date, there is no established area within applied or practi- cal ethics, and no academic journal devoted specifically to exploring the ethical dimensions of ecological field and laboratory research. The absence of such a field or forum is all the more telling when we consider the professional profile and nearly ubiquitous institutional presence of bioethics. As the branch of applied ethics that addresses questions within the biomedical science, clinical research, In a nutshell: * Ecologists and biodiversity managers often encounter complex ethical situations in their research and professional activities * These situations can involve questions about duties and obliga- tions to research animals, species, and ecological systems, as well as to science and the public welfare * There is currently no field within professional or practical ethics that specifically addresses the unique and multidimen- sional ethical concerns of practicing ecologists and resource managers * A new approach - "ecological ethics" - is needed School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4501 (ben.minteer@asu.edu) and physician communities, bioethics is thoroughly embedded in these environments. It has produced an extensive and impressive scholarly literature that covers a range of moral issues and ethically problematic cases aris- ing within biomedicine and clinical practice (eg Crigger 1998; Kuhse and Singer 1999; Murphy 2004). Ecologists and biodiversity managers need a comparable forum - that is, a new scholarly and professional field - for identifying and clarifying ethical issues in a systematic fashion and for debating and exchanging ideas about how to resolve the ethical questions raised by their work. Although some have advocated the expansion of the conceptual and institutional boundaries of bioethics to include the ethical issues raised by human-environment relations (eg Ehrlich 2003), we believe that the ethical issues faced by ecologists and biodiversity managers are suf- ficiently distinct and complex to require their own intel- lectual and professional forum. The established field of environmental ethics (Figure 1) offers an important per- spective on some of the values of and duties towards non- human individuals, species, and ecological systems (eg Taylor 1986; Rolston 1988, 1994; Callicott 1989, 1999), but it cannot be stretched far enough to cover all of the ethical concerns generated by specific problems and deci- sions in ecological research and conservation practice. As we discuss below, the moral questions confronting these research and management communities require a more practical and targeted philosophical focus, and a more inte- grative ethical framework, than environmental ethics or bioethics (even liberally construed) can currently provide. Why call for a new field now? It is becoming increas- ingly clear that the quest for ecological knowledge, which is so critical for informing efforts to understand and con- serve Earth's biodiversity along with valued ecosystem goods and services, frequently raises complex ethical ques- tions (Farsworth and Rosovsky 1993; Potvin et al. 2001; Marsh and Kenchington 2004). Furthermore, biodiversity managers increasingly have to navigate a difficult moral www.frontiersinecology.org The Ecological Society of America 1 www.frontiersinecology.org The Ecological Society of America This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspBA interandJP olinEclgalehs terrain as they carry out their work in a variety of con- texts, including public and private conservation facilities (eg zoos, aquaria, botanical gardens), parks and natural areas, and local communities (eg Norton et al. 1995; Sharpe et al. 2000; Guerrant Jr et al. 2004). Consider the following cases, each of which presents multiple ethical conundrums for the ecologist and/or biodiversity manager. * Case studies Justifying conservation targets Recent research suggests that Preble's meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei; Figure 2), which is listed as an endangered species, is in fact not taxonomically differ- ent from the common Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse (Johnson 2004). The US Fish and Wildlife Service will propose removing the mouse from the endangered species list in 2006 (www.r6.fws.gov/pressrel/05-05.htm). How- ever, some environmentalists say that Preble's mouse should remain listed because doing so protects the distinc- tive prairie habitat where the mouse lives. How should we decide whether the differences between species in such a case are sufficient to warrant recognizing two taxa or not? Is it an abuse of the US Endangered Species Act to leave the taxonomic distinction in place to protect the habitat? What do we need to know to resolve the value disputes between the taxonomic and environmental communities? Control of research resources Several exotic frog species are established in Hawaii. The coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus coqui; Figure 3) is now so com- mon that the noise produced by its nocturnal singing reduces home resale values and forces hotels to avoid using some rooms that look out on nearby forest. Hawaiians would like to eliminate the frog, and some wildlife man- agers have considered releasing an amphibian pathogen to kill the introduced species. What are the environmental risks of releasing the pathogen and how should such risks be weighed against the benefits of using it as a population control measure? How long should a researcher with the original pathogenic cultures control access to collections, since there is no guarantee that another investigator would not give away the cultures? Should a condition of archiv- ing specimens in a type culture collection be that they can- not be released for management purposes? Should publish- ing results be delayed to avoid placing a culture in a collection without such assurances? Managing exotic species In 1993, a breeding pair of non-native mute swans (Cygnus olor; Figure 4) established themselves at Arrowhead Mountain Lake in northwestern Vermont. Mute swans are highly territorial; a single male will defend a range of up to 10 ha, driving out and often killing native bird species. Their feeding activities also disrupt the lake's substrate, I Figure 1. Aldo Leopold. Widely recognized as the father of en- vironmental ethics, Leopold also pointed the way toward a new and more practical ethics for ecologists and biodiversity managers. which degrades water quality. The Arrowhead Lake swan population expanded to eight birds in the late 1990s, at which point the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, charged with the management of the state's native species and their habitats, decided to kill the swans to control their ecological impact. Two of the swans were eventually destroyed, an action which angered animal welfare organi- zations and many lake homeowners, who had grown accus- tomed to the swans' presence (Minteer 2003). Was the managers' decision to kill the swans the best decision in this case? Does it reflect more of a value judgment, informed by a desire to maintain what are perceived as "natural" environmental conditions, than a scientific argu- ment based on ecological evidence? Were there any feasi- ble non-lethal alternatives for controlling swan numbers? How should managers balance animal welfare concerns and considerations of ecological integrity where the pro- motion of one goal threatens to undercut the other? The ethics of bioprospecting In 2003, 1800 microbial species, including 148 bacterial species new to science, were collected from Bermuda's territorial waters (Dalton 2004; Figure 5). The DNA sequences will be publicly accessible in GenBank. The Bermuda Biological Station for Research granted permis- sion for the making of the collections. The Government of Bermuda, however, did not give permission, and is unhappy about the fact that something with potential value (gene sequences) is now in the public domain and of no direct value to the Bermudan people. Some research projects were also temporarily shut down until Bermuda's regulations on bioprospecting are strength- ened. What was the right thing for the researchers to do The Ecological Society of America www.frontiersinecology.org BA Minteer and JP Collins Ecological ethics The Ecological Society of America www.frontiersinecology.org This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspEcological ethics BA Minteer and JP Collins Figure 2. Preble's meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius pre mouse is at the center of a controversy over the role of science and v protection of endangered species and their habitats. Should a judgement that results in the delisting of a species be supported if it important conservation goals? in this case? Even without clear rules on bioprospecting, is it acceptable to still make collections? Should the reac- tion of the Government of Bermuda have been antici- pated, and should greater clarity on appropriate use of a country's natural legacy have been sought before collect- ing began? What obligations, if any, are there to researchers whose projects have been halted? Animal welfare considerations in field research Toe clipping is an established technique for identifying amphibians in mark-recapture field studies. Yet this prac- tice, which involves the removal of a distinctive combina- tion of digits (or parts of them), has been reported to result in a number of adverse effects on the animals, including inflammation and infection of the feet and limbs (eg Reaser and Dexter 1996). Results of a recent study by McCarthy and Parris (2004) suggest that toe clipping may also negatively affect the return rate of marked frogs, pre- a: co Cc Figure 3. An exotic species to the islands of Hawaii, the coqui therodactylus coqui) has become a great nuisance to many residents and hoteliers. Should an amphibian pathogen be releasec species? What restrictions, if any, should be placed on the use of th by the ecological research community? sumably compromising ecological researchers' main objectives. The animal welfare concern raised by toe clipping is the most obvious eth- ical issue (May 2004; Funk et al. 2005), but the McCarthy and Parris (2004) study also provokes other ethical questions that lie at the intersection of animal welfare, research design, and wider conservation concerns. For example, is the pain and suffering endured by the animal justifiable on "advance of scien- tific knowledge" grounds if toe clipping nega- tively affects animal survival rates, ultimately .blei). The undercutting the research findings? Is it alues in the morally worse to practice this marking tech- taxonomic nique on an endangered amphibian species? jeopardizes Are concerns about the potentially harmful effects of toe clipping on individual animals ultimately "trumped" by the value of the research for informing preservation strategies for larger species as well as habitat conservation agendas? * The need for a new approach Challenging cases like these raise many kinds of moral questions for the ecological researcher or biodiversity manager, involving obligations to the scientific and/or the conservation community, duty to the general public, and the scientists' and managers' responsibilities to research animals, species, and ecosystems. Given the diversity and multi-dimensional nature of these sorts of ethical issues, no single tradition in ethical theory or applied ethics can address adequately the multiple responsibilities and duties that must be considered in such morally and scientifically complicated decision-making situations. This point may appear self-evident, but we believe the complexity of these cases poses a challenge to many of the conventional approaches within ethical theory and applied ethics. This is especially true for those projects in which a single moral principle or underlying moral philosophy is defended as being universally applicable, a stance referred to as "moral monism" (eg Stone 1987; Norton 1995). Ecological researchers and managers, how- ever, may face situations that stretch any sin- gle "off-the-rack" ethical theory (and even the Western philosophical tradition as a whole) beyond the breaking point. For exam- ple, traditional (ie human-centered) ethical ... : theory is premised on the experiences or attributes of the individual human, whether focused on promoting good consequences for all those affected by an act or rule (utilitarian- frog (Eleu- ism), or on recognizing duties or obligations to Hawaiian respect certain values and/or rights indepen- I to kill the dent of the consequences (a "deontological" ius pathogen ethic). As a result, these principles are not easily or coherently extended to maintaining www.frontiersinecology.org The Ecological Society of America Ecological ethics BA Minteer and JP Collins www.frontiersinecology.org The Ecological Society of America This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspBA Minteer and IP Collins Ecological ethics the health or integrity of natural collectives such as whole ecological systems. On the other hand, even though envi- ronmental ethics has occasionally focused on philosophical issues and practical con- flicts within ecological research and/or conservation practice (eg Rolston 1994, 2004; Norton et al. 1995; Shrader-Frechette and McCoy 1999; Light 2000; Sagoff 2003; Frodeman 2003), it has in general been more preoccupied with abstract discussions of environmental value theory. The field's strong theoretical orientation, in other words, has rendered it incapable of offering Figure 4. M1 much practical assistance to scientists and some of the managers in their deliberations and deci- protection of ( sion-making in the ethical dilemmas this case? Is ti encountered in their work. Indeed, the judgment rathA field's primary journal, Environmental Ethics, rarely publishes papers devoted to exploring the concrete ethical dimensions of specific research and man- agement practices. The theoretical mission of environ- mental ethics is of course important, but it does not reach far enough into ecological research and management practices to be useful to most scientists and managers. The increasing number of pleas within environmental ethics for philosophers to become more engaged with matters of policy (eg Norton 1991; Light and Katz 1996; Frodeman 2004; Minteer 2005), however, is an indica- tion that the field may be evolving towards a more practi- cal and problem-solving stance. Still, this has been a slow process. Moreover, the ecological research and biodiver- sity management communities have also not been singled out by environmental ethicists as requiring any special or explicit philosophical attention. Furthermore, environmental ethicists have traditionally been most concerned with ecological wholes (ie wild species and ecosystems) in their work, a philosophical bias that has led many in the field to ignore issues having to do primarily with the welfare of individual animals (see Hargrove 1992; Varer 1998; Minteer 2004). Environ- mental ethicists have also shown little interest in the human or "anthropocentric" dimensions of environmental attitudes and practices, preferring instead to defend a nature-centered or "non-anthropocentric" ethical stance (Minteer 2005). As a result, we believe that the field of environmental ethics - at least as it is currently configured - does not provide the kind of inclusive ethical accounting we are proposing here, namely the identification and appraisal of the environmental, animal, and human (pro- fessional and welfare-regarding) values at play in problem- atic research and management situations. Consequently, we need a more philosophically pluralistic, interdiscipli- nary, and integrative practical ethical approach. We propose a new field in professional and practical ethics, with a far-reaching research agenda that cuts across the established domains in theoretical and applied ute swan (Cygnus olor). In Vermont, exotic mute swans exposed ethical conflicts between a concern for animal welfare and the ecosystem integrity. Did the wildlife managers do the right thing in he preference for native species and ecosystems ultimately a value er than a scientific one? ethics and relates in a concrete and direct way to ecologi- cal research and management. While this approach will quite naturally draw much of its substance from the moral theories and principles advanced within the theoretical (or normative), research, animal, and environmental ethics traditions, it will ultimately be considerably more wide-ranging and integrative than any of these single approaches. This new research agenda will be interdisci- plinary rather than provincial in nature; indeed, it will be best informed and most effective if it is the product of an organized and on-going series of discussions held across the natural sciences, social sciences, the humanities, and the conservation professions. In other words, it cannot be the purview only of philosophers or scientists. It will be at the cutting edge of practical and professional ethical inquiry, poised to make tangible rather than purely con- ceptual contributions to the resolution of ethical issues in ecology and biodiversity management. The new field we envision should include a comprehen- sive ethical framework that would help ecologists and managers identify and reason through the value dimen- sions of problematic situations, and resolve the moral claims placed upon them in the course of their research or conservation work. Elsewhere (Minteer and Collins in press), we have proposed the creation of an extensive case database, a tool that can help students, scientists, and managers learn from the problems and solutions of others and improve their critical thinking and moral reasoning abilities within a research or management setting. Such an integrated ethical framework and case library are, we believe, two key elements of this new interdisciplinary domain within practical ethics. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) could build into its annual meetings a regular interdisciplinary panel series (comprised of ethicists, scientists, and managers) focused on core questions and topical issues in the ethics of ecological research. A new section could be created in one of the ESA journals, expressly for discussing and ana- The Ecological Society of America www.frontiersinecology.org I U) .E z 10 Ecological ethics BA Minteer and JP Collins u The Ecological Society of America www.frontiersinecology.org This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspEcological ethics BA Minteer and JP Collins I Figure 5. Bermudan reefs. Can bioprospecting be morally wrong break the law? lyzing ethically problematic cases and their implications for ecological research design, publication protocols, and the general ethical conduct of ecologists (eg Dudycha and Geedey 2003). On the other side of the disciplinary fence, the major environmental ethics publications (eg Environmental Ethics, Environmental Values, Ethics and the Environment) might consider devoting special journal issues to these kinds of discussions, encouraging co- authored papers that reflect scientific, managerial, and philosophical contributions, and that bring real dilemmas and issues from the field and laboratory into the philoso- pher's parlor. Given the increasing frequency of ethical questions in ecology and biodiversity management, per- haps we will even see the rise of a new professional society and the establishment of a new interdisciplinary journal, committed to exploring the practical and conceptual dimensions of ethical decision making in ecological research and management. There are a number of converging ethical arguments for creating this new field, including its ability to facilitate the recognition of duties and obligations to promote or protect environmental values, animal welfare, and the public welfare. We should also point out that our proposal appeals directly to ecologists' and resource managers' enlightened self-interest. This new forum for ethical dis- cussion within the ecological research and management communities will, we believe, allow researchers and man- agers to respond more effectively to the ethical challenges encountered in their work. It will also help them to lead discussions about proper research design and manage- ment, rather than waiting for more slow-moving and often ambiguous legal prescriptions to point the way (as well as avoiding situations in which they find themselves on the wrong side of a guideline or law; Angulo and Cooke 2002). As scientists and biodiversity managers increasingly face ethical challenges in their work, we need to recognize and confront these issues, and lead the debate regarding the social roles of scientists and the content and struc- I; i _ '^ ^H ture of our collective moral responsi- V3^ _~ ~ bilities. These ethical dilemmas are not going to go away by themselves. If anything, they will continue to grow with the development of more formi- dable tools and techniques to study and manage the planet's ecosystems and its biological diversity. Finally, our proposal goes beyond the various codes of ethics adopted by professional societies. While impor- tant and well motivated, such codes almost by definition cannot capture the inherent complexity of specific moral dilemmas in the field, the labo- ; even if it does not ratory, and the conservation facility. There is a general tendency among sci- entific and professional societies to assume that the promulgation of a code of ethics settles the question of how to incorporate ethical considerations into institutional culture and professional practice. Codes of ethics certainly have a role to play in expressing profes- sional values and providing the community with a regula- tory structure (Beier 2005). They also perform the impor- tant function of drawing scientists' and managers' attention to shared standards of professional conduct, and to the existence of common value positions. But a code of ethics, however useful it may be in promoting these ends, is a weak substitute for the serious and ongoing critical ethi- cal inquiry and deliberation that we believe must be actively cultivated and supported within the scientific and management communities. Ultimately, we need to merge the principles of environmental, animal, and research ethics with practical examples, to create a new area of inquiry that will lead to more and different courses in ethics for students, and training programs for ecologists and biodiversity managers. Just as physicians, clinicians, and biomedical researchers can draw from a developed body of theory and case literature in bioethics, in addition to the principles set down in their professional codes, so too should ecologists and biodiversity managers be able to turn to an organized scholarly field with the practical resources and intellectual depth to assist them in making informed and sensitive decisions in ethically problematic situations. While philosophical discussion about the exact nature of our duties to environmental entities and systems remains contested and unsettled in many quarters, centuries of reform in our moral thinking about the natural world and nearly four decades of focused work in professional envi- ronmental ethical inquiry suggest that at the very least we have some duties to non-humans and environmental sys- tems. We may be unsure about the ultimate source of these duties, and it is not always clear how we should weigh them alongside our more established social and professional obligations in practice. However, it is no longer the case (if www.frontiersinecology.org The Ecological Society of America Ecological ethics BA Minteer and JP Collins www.frontiersinecology.org The Ecological Society of America This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspBA Minteer and JP Collins Ecological ethics indeed it ever was) that a researcher in the field or labora- tory, or a manager working in a conservation facility or nat- ural area, can completely ignore the claims of nature in making decisions that may potentially impact animal wel- fare, species viability, or ecological integrity - however these are defined. As ecological research becomes increas- ingly technical and powerful, and as ecology becomes increasingly professionalized as a discipline, the day may come when the precautionary principle of the Rio Declaration from the 1992 Earth Summit - the proscrip- tion to prevent environmental degradation - is the basis for the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath (to first do no harm) taken by ecologists and biodiversity managers. Ethicists, natural and social scientists, and biodiversity managers will all gain by coming together in a collabora- tive and targeted effort to study and develop methods of ethical analysis and problem solving in ecological research and management. But unless we organize ourselves and take the required steps to identify and reason through these issues - and create the intellectual framework necessary to the task - there is a danger that the ethical dimensions of ecological research and management will continue to fall through the institutional and scholarly cracks. 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The Ecological Society of America www.frontiersinecology.org BA Minteer and JP Collins Ecological ethics C The Ecological Society of America www.frontiersinecology.org This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 Jun 2014 05:38:04 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspArticle Contentsp. 332p. 333p. 334p. 335p. 336p. 337Issue Table of ContentsFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Aug., 2005), pp. 295-348Front Matter [pp. 341-347]Editorial FocusFollowing the Paper Trail [p. 295]DispatchesDNA Technology Finds Its Ecological Niche [p. 296]Court Battle Looms over Alpine Grazing Ban [p. 297]No Gloom and Doom with This Algal Bloom [p. 297]Herbicide Harms Amphibians [p. 298]Prickly Marker for Climate Change [p. 298]Nigerian Communities Demand End to Gas Flaring [p. 299]Priming Plant Defenses [p. 299]Decimation of Nepal's Medicinal Plants [p. 300]Union Carbide Cleanup Criticized [p. 300]Sri Lanka's Frog Hotspots [p. 301]New Straits for Panama Canal? [p. 301]Write BackOpinion versus Scientific Consensus [pp. 302-303]Research CommunicationsReducing Propagule Supply and Coastal Invasions via Ships: Effects of Emerging Strategies [pp. 304-308]The Effects of Atrazine and Temperature on Turtle Hatchling Size and Sex Ratios [pp. 309-313]ReviewsWinter in Northeastern North America: A Critical Period for Ecological Processes [pp. 314-322]Unraveling an Emerging Disease Associated with Disturbed Aquatic Environments: The Case of Buruli Ulcer [pp. 323-331]Why We Need an "Ecological Ethics" [pp. 332-337]Pathways to Scientific TeachingDetermining Confidence: Sex and Statistics [pp. 338-339]Laws of NatureEnvironmental "Takings" [p. 340]Finishing LinesSalmon Samaritans [p. 348]Back Matter


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