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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

March 4, 1994

Air Date: March 4, 1994


Threatened California Oaks / Cy Musiker

Cy Musiker reports on efforts to preserve California's oak trees, once some of the most common species in the state. Over a million acres of oak woodland have been felled by developers and ranchers over the past forty years, and early research indicates that some species may not be regenerating. Now a restoration project by the University of California is gaining the support of private landowners. (06:29)

Clinton's Forest Plan ... Final Take?

Host Steve Curwood talks with syndicated columnist and Living on Earth analyst Russell Sadler about spotted owls, salmon, and sour grapes over the Clinton administration’s final Northwest forest management plan. The plan is being submitted to the judge who originally blocked logging in the region's old growth forests. Sadler says over the last year it has been transformed from a spotted owl recovery plan to an ecosystem-recovery plan. (05:25)

Zambia's Vanishing Forests / Musenje Kapumba

Musenje Kapumba of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation reports from the Copperbelt Region of Zambia on the demise of her tropical homeland's forests. Around 3500 square miles of forest ecosystem are lost each year in Zambia to industry, timbering, small scale farming, and charcoal production. While some believe any policy changes will be “too little too late,” others are calling for tougher government protection before the forests are entirely gone. (08:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Eric Westerveldt, Paula Dobbyn, Henry Sessions, Cy Musiker, Musenje Kapumba
GUEST: Russell Sadler

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The common oak tree is hardly something you'd think of as being endangered, but many oak woodlands in California may well be in danger from low fertility and too much cutting.

PAVLIK: Very often, in the past, the oaks have been seen as weeds themselves, as sort of bulky inhabitants of priceless land. And they've been removed quite rapidly in some areas.

CURWOOD: Trees of all kinds are falling quickly in Zambia. Cutting for agriculture, fuel, and industry could denude the African nation within the next generation.

HEGGET: The biggest consumers of timber on the Copper Belt are [sounds like "seteesee"] in the mines. They are responsible for having cut down over 40,000 indigenous trees per month, of which only 10% is actually utilized by the mines.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news. After years of study, a federal panel has released its plan for preserving 26 million acres of forest in northern New York and New England. The long-awaited plan is intended to protect one of the largest and most heavily-used forested areas in the country, while keeping most of it in private hands. From member station WEVO in Concord, New Hampshire, Eric Westerveldt has the story.

WESTERVELDT: The council's report says rising property taxes, over-development, unsound logging practices, and job loss threaten the long-term viability of the northern forest. Unlike other large US forests, more than 85% of the northern forest is in private hands. The council's 33 proposals include tax breaks to encourage people to keep land undeveloped and locally owned, and a tax on specialty outdoor equipment to help fund recreation programs. The report also endorses the idea of creating more wildlife areas to enhance biological diversity. The Northern Forest Lands Council will now take public input and present its final recommendations to Congress and the states in May. For Living on Earth, this is Eric Westerveldt in Concord, New Hampshire.

NUNLEY: Exports of toxic trash would drop sharply in the next five years under legislation filed by the Clinton Administration. The move would bring the US in line with the treaty limiting shipments of hazardous waste to the developing world. That treaty had been signed but not enacted by the Bush Administration. Shipments to Canada and Mexico, where more than half of US waste exports now go, would be exempt from the restrictions.

The chemical industry says new rules cutting toxic air emissions by 88% will be expensive, but ultimately a good thing. Reaction by environmental groups is mixed. The new rules required by the Clean Air Act are the broadest ever, regulating over 100 types of airborne pollutants. From Washington, Paula Dobbyn has the story.

DOBBYN: About 370 chemical plants will be affected by the regulations, mostly in Louisiana, Texas, and New Jersey. The rules aim to reduce emissions of dangerous toxins, including benzene, vinyl chloride, and chloroform. EPA administrator Carol Browner says they will have a far-reaching impact on air quality in the US.

BROWNER: This is the equivalent of taking 38 million cars off of the road, about one fourth of all of the cars in America.

DOBBYN: While environmental groups largely applaud the EPA move, some say the regulations give chemical companies too much slack because they will be allowed to trade pollution credits. But Carol Browner says the impact of that is marginal, and the goal is to make it easier for companies to meet clean air standards. For Living on Earth, I'm Paula Dobbyn in Washington.

NUNLEY: Ten Asian nations have agreed to work together to try to save tigers from extinction. Wire services report the effort will focus on poaching and trafficking in tiger parts for folk medicines. It's being led by India, which is home to the largest share of the 8,000 remaining tigers. China, which is the biggest market for tiger products, reportedly backed out of the New Delhi meeting, although the Chinese have recently cracked down on the tiger trade.

This is Living on Earth.

Results of a new study suggest links between declining amphibian populations around the world and the thinning of the ozone layer. Scientists in Oregon say the disappearance of frogs there is apparently caused by high levels of ultraviolet light. Henry Sessions reports.

SESSIONS: Oregon State University researchers noticed several years ago that frog populations in the state's mountain lakes were plummeting, even though the frogs' habitat was mostly undisturbed by human activity. Zoologist Andrew Blaustein suspects ultraviolet radiation is the culprit. The researchers found an enzyme in the frogs that allows them to withstand the sun's deadly UV rays. Frog species who have a lot of the enzyme are doing okay. Those that don't are disappearing. Separate studies suggest that the ozone layer over Oregon is thinning, which would mean more UV radiation is getting through. If the connection proves solid, it could help explain the disappearance of many other amphibians around the world. For Living on Earth, this is Henry Sessions in Portland, Oregon.

NUNLEY: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That appears to be the creed of the controversial former director of the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Jim Baca wants to join the ranks of the powerful western politicians whom he says forced him from his job in a dispute over grazing fee hikes. Less than a month after his ouster, Baca has entered the campaign for governor of New Mexico. If he wins, Baca would again be in a position to influence grazing policy. However, Baca barely mentioned the issue in his first stump speech. He says he doesn't want to be labeled a one-issue candidate.

The 103-year-old activist whose name graces a bill to restore the Everglades says she no longer wants to be associated with the law. Florida enacted the Marjorie Stoneham Douglas Everglades Protection Act in 1991. But with the cleanup now stalled, the state is making concessions to farmers, and that's led Douglas to ask that her name be removed from the law. Douglas objects to the proposed amendments that would allow pollution to flow into the Everglades past the turn of the century.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Threatened California Oaks

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

I was born a couple of years after World War II, and in my lifetime about two thirds of the world's intact forest ecosystems have disappeared. Most of this loss has come from cutting and burning, although acid rain and other pollutants have taken a toll as well. Almost no part of the globe is exempt from these forest losses. Today we'll hear from a correspondent in the tropical forest of Zambia, and take a look at the Clinton Administration's latest attempt to settle the forest dispute of the Pacific Northwest.

But first we go to California, where there's mounting concern over the oak woodlands that dominate the landscape from the coast to the Sierra foothills. Development is chopping away these oak forests at a rate of 30 to 50,000 acres a year, and some species of oak don't seem to be reproducing any more. From Oakland, reporter Cy Musiker has our story.

MUSIKER: Bruce Pavlik is pulling an acaceous seedling out from under an 80-year-old coast live oak growing on the Mills College Campus in Oakland. He might seem overly protective to be pulling a small week from under such a massive tree. But Pavlik says oaks are highly vulnerable to exotic intruders.

PAVLIK: Particularly on the urban edge, here, eucalyptus and acacias and some other very weedy trees begin to take over the habitat. And they eventually over-top the native oaks and they create a fire hazard, and on top of it a fire hazard that didn't exist when the oaks were there. And it's a big problem trying to keep natural communities natural.

MUSIKER: Pavlik is an associate professor at Mills College, and author of the book Oaks of California. Until recently, these dome-shaped trees and their surrounding grasslands were largely unprotected.

PAVLIK: Oaks tend to occur at low elevation, which is where we as humans like to set up our agriculture and our commercial developments, our residential developments. So very often, in the past, the oaks have been seen as weeds themselves, as sort of bulky inhabitants of priceless land. And they've been removed quite rapidly in some areas, as we've had urban, suburban expansion, agricultural clearing, range improvements.

MUSIKER: During the past 40 years, well over a million acres of oaks have been lost, over 10% of the state's oak woodlands. But these trees are now recognized to be keystone species that shelter over 300 native animals, from mule deer to acorn woodpeckers, wood rats, salamanders, and ringneck snakes. That's more variety than is found in any other California landscape, including the more famous coast redwoods.

(Forest footfalls)

Part of the difficulty in protecting California oaks is that there's been little research done on the trees, but seven years ago the University of California began to a new program to change that.

(Flowing stream)

McCREARY: What we have here is 2,000 feet of a perennial stream. This area was wooded probably until about 30 years ago, when most of the woody vegetation was removed here for range improvement and for some scientific purposes of creating some uniform pastures.

MUSIKER; Doug McCreary is an oak specialist at a University of California test site in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, about 80 miles north of Sacramento. McCreary's ironic task is to undo the effect of recommendations made by the university in the 50s to cattle ranchers to clear all the oak trees off their range. They ultimately found that it wasn't bad just for the oaks, but for other aspects of the landscape as well.

McCREARY: One of the side effects of that was that the character of the stream was changed. There's now very little woody vegetation, mainly cattails, and from a wildlife standpoint it's not near as healthy. So what we're doing here is we're planting oaks and then other more riparian species such as willows and cottonwoods. And we really want to restore this creek.

(Flowing creek with lowing cattle)

MUSIKER: The creek is part of a model cattle ranch, where McCreary researches the best oak planting techniques and ways to keep cattle from grazing on saplings. That work is important because blue oak and valley oak aren't regenerating, even in some undisturbed portions of their range. McCreary and other researchers say they're not sure why. One factor may be that Mediterranean grasses have replaced native perennials since the arrival of the Spanish 300 years ago. There's also a theory that the California climate is becoming permanently hotter and drier.

McCREARY: Oaks perhaps haven't evolved fast enough to adapt to the changing environmental conditions. And they may be naturally being replaced by other vegetation, which is more suited to the changing climate. Now I don't know if that's valid or not, but in that sense, one might suggest that this isn't a bad or unnatural thing. It's just natural evolution.

MUSIKER: Still, McCreary is optimistic about oak survival, in part because UC's oak restoration program has gained the support of private landowners who control 80% of the remaining woodlands. Developers, for instance, are finding that they can charge more for home sites with mature oak trees. Ranchers find that oaks provide shade for their cattle and reduce erosion. But for some that support only goes so far. Jack Hunt manages over 150,000 acres of mountain and savanna oak woodlands on his Tahan Ranch near Bakersfield. He's worked with university researchers to study why oaks won't regenerate. But Hunt says he'd resist any laws designed to restore oak trees by restricting cattle grazing.

HUNT: In order for that to happen in a significant way, assuming it even works, is you're going to have to have some economic incentives and benefits associated with doing that. And if you're going to have a regulatory scheme, you're going to have to have one that works and not one like you have in LA County, that's become so politicized that no one ever makes a decision.

MUSIKER: Still, Hunt and the State Cattleman's Association are cooperating with public agencies and the California Oak Foundation, to keep development from fragmenting the state's remaining oak woodlands. UC researcher Doug McCreary thinks this may be a rare case where a consensus between private land-holders and environmentalists creates a lot of political momentum.

McCREARY: It's great that at this point, when the resource is still fairly viable, were trying to make some meaningful changes in how we manage these lands, so that the resource is conserved for future generations.

MUSIKER: The California Board of Forestry has begun an education program around the state to promote local protection for oak woodlands. For now, it seems people are making the necessary changes. But if it's not effective, the Board has promised to impose state-wide conservation standards. For Living on Earth, I'm Cy Musiker in Oakland.

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(Music up and under)

Clinton's Forest Plan ... Final Take?

CURWOOD: Three years after a judge shut down logging in Federal old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest to protect the endangered spotted owl, and after a year of study and negotiations by the Clinton Administration, the White House has released what it hopes will be its final plan for protecting those virgin woodlands. The revised Clinton plan calls for even less logging than originally proposed. The Government has received over 100,000 comments on its forest plan, but the most important opinion has yet to be heard. US District Judge William Dwyer, who first imposed the logging ban, must decide whether this plan is sufficient to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist in Oregon and a regular analyst of northwest forest issues for Living on Earth. Sadler says the final Administration plan allows less logging than earlier versions because it takes into account other endangered species, especially salmon, which require more protected territory than the spotted owls.

SADLER: On the way to writing their Federal Forest Management Plan, the Clinton Administration has abandoned the spotted owl recovery plan, and that has become a salmon recovery plan. That's startling news because it will involve a new form of management over many thousand acres more than was necessary merely to protect the spotted owl. Under the Clinton plan, the Federal Government, including the Forest Service, is moving to something everybody's been calling ecosystem management. Now, to be honest, nobody's sure what that is.


SADLER: But it is clear what it is not. Whatever else ecosystem management is, it is not single species management. And that has enormous consequences, because every state fish and wildlife department does single species management, and of course the Endangered Species Act is the ultimate act of single species management.

CURWOOD: So the Clinton Administration has really changed its frame of reference.


CURWOOD: From just looking at the spotted owl to whole ecosystem management, rather quietly but significantly.

SADLER: Ironically, this is probably the best course for the Forest Service, because it is a decentralized management organization. Management policies that work in the Douglas fir region of the Pacific Northwest won't work in the piney woods of the Carolinas. The Forest Service's decentralized management permits them to alter this philosophy of ecosystem management to fit the reality on the ground.

CURWOOD: How are loggers responding to this? Are they feeling double-crossed? That Clinton had made a promise of much more logging than he's now offering?

SADLER: The most astonishing thing is how quiet it is out here.

CURWOOD: Really.

SADLER: The loudest voices are the timber industry trade associations, who are saying what you're just saying: we got double-crossed. And the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which came out and argued for a complete ban on any logging at all. Neither of those voices are likely to be heeded. And I think the reasons for that are, are pretty clear. All the damage and all the short-term economic consequences of these court injunctions and the diminished log supply have just about run their course. The surviving mills in the region have switched to second-growth logs and are no longer as dependent on Federal logs, and the mills that were dependent on Federal logs are now largely out of business.

CURWOOD: Do you think the environmentalists are going to go along with this region by region ecosystem management? They've been leery of it when it comes to the grazing fees.

SADLER: This is going to be a significant political struggle. Right now, ecosystem management means that land management has to be made region by region; one size does not fit all. The political structure of the environmental movement, like the industry lobbying, however, is all centralized in Washington, DC. Any effort to manage the Federal public lands region by region will undercut the lobby groups inside the Beltway. And they don't like it; that's why you get the environmental groups jumping up and down, sending out heavy breathing alerts over things like the Applegate partnership here in Oregon, where the timber industry and the environmental groups and the river runners and what have you are all sitting down around a table and working out their problems.

CURWOOD: Let's talk about the judge here. Do you think he's going to accept this plan? This is Judge William Dwyer.

SADLER: If you read the tea leaves, it looks like Dwyer is getting tired of the criticism that is coming with his custody of the Federal forests. And there are signs that Dwyer would like to get this off his plate. The Clinton Administration is the first good-faith effort by the Executive Branch to come up with something that can be remotely argued complies with the Endangered Species Act and the rest of the Federal laws that govern Federal land management.

CURWOOD: Are we just about at the end of this? Do you see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel of solving this hassle?

SADLER: There aren't a lot of resources left to play politics with out here. We have logged most of the old growth. The Pacific Northwest has the last remaining stands of old growth timber that existed when Columbus banged up on the other side of the continent. And I suspect from the political standpoint, the largest issue is there's not a lot left to fight over. So yeah, there's got to be some light at the end of the tunnel. This controversy can't go on much longer.

CURWOOD: Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist and an analyst for Living on Earth.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: What do you think about the Clinton Administration's plans to limit logging in the Pacific Northwest? We'd like to hear from you about that or anything else you hear on Living on Earth. Call us toll-free at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are available for $10.

Zambia's Vanishing Forests

CURWOOD: Deep in the heart of the tropical forests of Africa, the people and wildlife of Zambia are losing almost 3500 square miles of forest ecosystem every year. At the present rate of forest loss, Zambia will be denuded in the next century. The culprits include small farmers and charcoal burners, but also Zambia's timber and mining industries. Musenje Kapumba of the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation has our story.

(Singing and woodcutting)

KAPUMBA: Another tree is cut down. I found this man cutting wood a few kilometers' walk from the town of Chingola in the Copper Belt region of Zambia. He is a charcoal burner and he makes his living supplying fuel wood to the towns nearby. More than 60% of Zambians depend on charcoal for cooking fuel, and about 45,000 hectares of woodland are cleared every year to meet the charcoal demand. But that's only one small part of a much larger problem. Zambians are being warned that if we keep cutting trees down at the current rate, in just 50 years time there will be none left at all. I decided to try and find out why the forests are disappearing. My investigations took me to the Copper Belt area in the northeastern part of Zambia, home to over half Zambia's population, and where trees are disappearing faster than anywhere else in the country.

Along with charcoal, Zambia's trees provide timber for domestic and industrial use. Or sometimes they are cut down because people want to use land for agriculture. But what's the biggest cause of deforestation in the Copper Belt? That's the question I put to Colin Hegget, the chairman of the Environmental Conservation Association of Zambia.

HEGGET: The biggest consumers of timber on the Copper Belt are in the mines. They are responsible for having cut down over 40,000 indigenous trees per month, of which only 10% is actually utilized by the mines. The rest, the waste, instead of being turned into charcoal, these are just burned to dispose of it.

KAPUMBA: So, precious wood that could be used for fuel is being wasted by the mines. The second largest user of timber in the Copper Belt is the sawmilling companies. There are many sawmilling companies in Zambia, including two new ones in the Copper Belt. That's good news for the national economy and good news for the local people who've got employed. But it has led to more trees being cut down.

(Sawmilled trees)

KAPUMBA: At this sawmill in the town of Ondola in the Copper Belt, thousands of trees are processed into timber each year. I could see for myself that it was a wasteful process. While some of the timber was really being used, a lot was thrown away. Timber processors themselves admit that they can waste up to 50% of the wood. I decided to pay a visit to one of the major timber companies. Zambia Forestry and Forest Industries Corporation Ltd., known as ZAFICO, agreed to talk to me. I met with the company's acting director, Peter Chetombo, and asked him how much of Zambia's forest they are cutting down in the Copper Belt each year.

CHETOMBO: Apparently, we are clearcutting about 300 hectares per year. That does not mean that we get all our requirements from clearcutting. In some cases we are doing thinning. You go in and select some trees which are not performing well and take them to the sawmill, so that you give chance to the best trees so that those become your finer crop.

KAPUMBA: Environmentalists have expressed concern really that ZAFICO doesn't really plant any trees but just reap, and then never plant back what they rip up out from the ground. And that you also go out of your way from your plantation. What would be your comment on that?

CHETOMBO: I think it is environmental. The best thing they could do is maybe to pass a visit. Then they'll get to the first-hand information. But as far as I am concerned, or as far as ZAFICO is concerned, we do replant these areas.

KAPUMBA: But some environmentalists are not happy with the company's policy. The company often replants exotic trees like pine and eucalyptus instead of the indigenous Zambian trees they have taken away. Environmentalists argue that indigenous Zambian trees are fast-growing and suitable for commercial use, but unlike eucalyptus and pine, they can also support other forest products, too, such as medicine or plants, fruits and nuts.

But now, back to the issue of charcoal. In the Copper Belt, the demand for fuel wood is so great that the charcoal burners are cutting down too many trees each year. As I found out when I listened to some charcoal burners, making a living gets harder each year. They are one of the causes of deforestation and they are also its victims.

TRANSLATOR: Fuel wood is very difficult to come across these days. You really have to sweat to find it. The woods are found in distant places. Some time back, we used to collect from nearer places, but it's not the case today.

KAPUMBA: So how do you manage?

TRANSLATOR: It is very, very difficult. But if you want to eat, you have to sweat to find the fuel wood.

KAPUMBA: Some fuel wood cutters have started to make charcoal from the old cuts of waste wood from the sawmilling companies like ZAFICO. This is a small step towards using the forest timber carefully. But, is it too little too late? Colin Hegget of the Environmental Conservation Association of Zambia thinks that it is. He believes there's not enough control of timber extraction. I asked him how much of logging that goes on is illegal.

HEGGET: Unfortunately, I would say that most of it is. There are many licenses issued by the Forestry Department, but most of your commercial operators ignore the forestry regulations, and overlog to a very large extent. They will pay for one trees or one cubic meter of timber, and maybe take ten. So it is a very serious problem.

KAPUMBA: And who probably could be blamed for all these things, you know, that are happening here?

HEGGET: I put the blame fairly and squarely on previous governments, and unfortunately, the last year, the present government isn't moving fast enough to put the brakes on. Although they have the rules and regulations, they don't have the manpower or the political will to enforce it.

KAPUMBA: So, what's the matter with the Zambia Forestry Department? I went to see Mr. Aaron Bander, the chief training and publicities officer with the Department of Forestry in Indola. He made no excuses for his department's lack of influence.

BANDER: We are trying our best within the limitations, but I can assure you that we could do much better with resources at our disposal. Our staff on the ground are few, the transport is just not there, the financial resources for generation purposes are not adequate. There are so many, so many problems.

KAPUMBA: Many foresters in Zambia feel frustrated. They can only watch as their unsustainable exploitation of the resource continues each year. Still, some Zambians say, what does it matter to me if we lose the forest? It won't affect me. But about 9,000 square kilometers is being destroyed every year, and the results do affect all of us. Trees are an important part of our environment. Their roots hold onto the precious soil of our farmlands. In parts of Zambia, we have seen that when the trees go, the topsoil goes, too. Also in Zambia, there is a critical shortage of forest products such as fuel wood and timber for construction. The wild animals, too, whose presence in the forest could greatly boost the tourism industry, are also being denied their natural shelter. this is why many Zambians are asking the government to pass tougher forest protection laws and to come up with the resources to enforce them. And why they are also asking their countrymen to become involved at all levels of forest conservation. Conserving our forests, they say, is a major challenge that should not be given a blind eye, but requires the attention of all Zambians. For Living on Earth, I am Musenje Kapumba in the Copper Belt region of Zambia.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is directed by Debra Stavro. Peter Thomson produces and edits the program. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Jessika Bella Mura, Eve Stewart, and engineers Laurie Azaria, Bob Connolly, and Karen Given. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. A special thanks this week to Ada Mensa and the Panos Institute in London.

Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the National Science Foundation, for coverage of science and the environment; from the Pew Charitable Trusts; from all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; and from the W. Alton Jones Foundation. Additional support is provided by the George Gund Foundation.

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The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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