Conservation & Environment

Wildfire burning near Sylva, NC

Posted by on Oct 24, 2016 @ 6:11 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The Dick’s Creek Fire burning on the Nantahala National Forest and private land near Sylva, NC, is estimated at 200-250 acres. The fire is located to the southeast of Dick’s Creek Road. Firefighters are building hand and dozer lines and a helicopter is dropping water. Firefighters are also working to clear brush and leaves away from homes and other structures along Dick’s Creek.

Drivers on US 74 will encounter smoke near Sylva. Smoke is expected to settle in to the valley near Sylva tonight.

The fire was discovered on Sunday morning, October 24, 2016; the cause is under investigation. Crews on scene are from the U.S. Forest Service, North Carolina Forest Service, Emergency Management from Jackson County, and Bureau of Land Management Lakeview, Oregon.


Update October 25, 2015

The Dicks Creek Fire burning on the Nantahala National Forest and private land near Sylva, NC, is now 60 percent contained at 374 acres.

The fire is located to the southeast of Dicks Creek Road. All hand and dozer lines have been constructed. Firefighters are engaged in holding and burnout operations. Local fire departments are on scene to provide protection to homes and other structures along Dicks Creek.

Dicks Creek Road is open only to local residents. Others are asked to stay away from the area for firefighter and public safety.


Update October 26, 2015

Smoke along US 74 near Sylva may become more visible this afternoon as temperatures increase and heavy fuels continue to burn within the fire line perimeter. The fire is burning in steep, rocky terrain on private lands and federal lands under the management of the Nantahala National Forest. Ground crews are on patrol, mitigating hot spots and hazard trees near the fire line. Approximately 76 personnel are on the incident from the U.S. Forest Service, North Carolina Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (Lakeview, Oregon), Jackson County Emergency Management and Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

The public is asked to be considerate of incident vehicles and personnel in the area and to avoid the use of drones in the fire area. Drones could interfere with air attack resources that are on standby.

Severe drought and high fire danger continue.


Update October 27, 2016

Firefighters made significant progress along the fire perimeter yesterday, gridding for hot spots and using engine hose lays to spray nearly 8,000 gallons of water on smoking fuels along containment lines. Work today will focus along dozer lines on the east side of the fire area where crews will be extinguishing hot spots and taking care of hazard trees near the fire line. Patrol and monitoring will continue along Dicks Creek Road.

Gusty winds are expected today with a hazardous weather outlook that could produce storms and/or lightning. Incident Commander Greg Brooks told firefighters during morning briefing, “We may not see any rain – lightning will be the main threat.”

Fire Behavior: Minimal fire, smoldering, large trees well within the fire area may continue to smoke for weeks. 374 acres, 80% contained.


Update October 28, 2016

Fire Behavior: Minimal fire, smoldering, large trees well within the fire area may continue to smoke for weeks

Local events are expected to draw high visitation over the weekend. The public is asked to be aware of high fire danger while enjoying area activities. Effective October 28, 2016, the following fire restrictions are in place for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests until further notice: Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire is NOT ALLOWED outside of developed campgrounds where a fee is paid.


Reducing Noise in National Parks

Posted by on Oct 22, 2016 @ 11:47 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division at the U.S. National Park Service provides scientific support to all the national park units. Its researchers help park administrators understand the current state of their resource conditions and what the effects of pollution are on visitor experience and wildlife, and give them suggestions for how they might reduce pollution and mitigate its consequences.

Kurt Fristrup, Ph.D., of Natural Sounds and Night Skies, said, “Noise and light pollution are interesting because most of the forms of pollution involve matter. The pollution we work on involves energy and has the interesting property that as soon as you do something about the source, the environmental conditions improve immediately.”

Historically the Park Service became interested in noise pollution when the Grand Canyon National Park was enlarged by Congress in 1975. The legislation spoke of natural quiet as a resource and a value to be protected in the park.

Noise interferes with hearing, just as smog interferes with scenic quality. For visitors, the consequences are a sort of degradation of the quality they experience. For wildlife, the consequences are more severe. Subtle sounds of nature often play critical roles in predator-prey interactions, and other literally life-and-death matters.

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Coming Soon to a Forest Near You

Posted by on Oct 20, 2016 @ 7:02 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

In August, 2016, another 689.67 acres was added to North Carolina’s Headwaters State Forest. Projected to open in 2018, the forest contains the East Fork of the French Broad River Headwaters (for which it is named), making it an important area to protect fresh, clean water.

Land acquisition for the forest began in 2009, when landowner and former congressman Charles Taylor approached Carolina Mountain Land Cconservancy. What resulted was a multi-party partnership dedicated to protecting nearly 8,000 acres of land in Transylvania County. In addition to forestry and recreation, a portion of the area will be used as a wildlife refuge.

This conservation effort is part of a landscape-scale approach to protect large, undivided forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The 8,000 acre East Fork Headwaters tract will complete the missing link in a contiguous chain of nearly one million acres of protected, public lands.

The North Carolina Forest Service will own and manage the land as the newly established Headwaters State Forest. Rare mountain bogs found within the conservation project may be included within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s new Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge.

Preview what Headwaters State Forest has to offer. A section of the Foothills Trail, which runs along the North/South Carolina border, cuts through the future state forest. Hike a 5.2-mile out and back to a scenic view point in the Pardee & CMLC White Squirrel Hiking Challenge 4.


Another Duke Energy coal ash spill discovered in the Neuse River

Posted by on Oct 19, 2016 @ 4:51 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers have discovered a large coal ash spill into the Neuse River from the Duke Energy H.F. Lee facility, 10 miles upstream of Goldsboro, NC. A substantial but undetermined amount of coal ash was found floating on the surface of the river in a layer over one inch thick.

The spill came from at least one of three inactive coal ash ponds containing more than one million tons of exposed coal ash. The ponds had been submerged by Hurricane Matthew flood waters for more than seven days until flood waters receded over the weekend. Fly ash coated tree branches as much as seven feet above the river surface, indicating the spill began no later than last Tuesday, when the water level reached a record flood stage.

Independent microscopic analysis confirmed the white material is fly ash particles known as cenospheres, a waste product of coal combustion.

Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, said, “This spill is easily visible to anyone in a boat. The area looks like a winter wonderland of toxic coal ash as it has coated the water and trees. It is hard for me to understand how both Duke Energy and state regulators failed to notice such a large area of coal ash contaminating the Neuse River when they claim to have inspected these very ash ponds on Saturday (Oct. 15).”

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The bid for Bears Ears

Posted by on Oct 19, 2016 @ 11:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The bid for Bears Ears

One thousand years ago, clusters of pueblos teeming with activity dotted what are now the piñon, juniper and sage forests atop Cedar Mesa. Men tended to hundreds of acres of electric-green fronds of corn, beans and squash. Women ground corn and shelled beans on rooftops, while turkeys gobbled in nearby pens and domesticated dogs roamed village plazas.

Groups of runners followed wide, carefully constructed “roads” from here to Chaco, perhaps the political and cultural center of the Pueblo world. Near the solstice, Kachinas emerged from canyons, danced slowly across plazas and descended into great kivas to summon the sun or the rain.

Near the end of the 12th century, after the Ancestral Puebloans had built and lived in villages in the region for more than 800 years, shaping religion, culture and societies, trouble arrived. Someone or something threatened the people, pushing them to cluster into bigger, more easily defended pueblos. And by the middle of the 13th century, the Puebloan communities of the Bears Ears region were empty.

After a journey every bit as epic as that of the Israelites, the people had moved on to place their footprints elsewhere, ultimately fulfilling the covenant and settling in their respective homelands, today’s Hopi, Zuni and Eastern pueblos. “We have earned the right to be earth stewards,” says Kuwanwisiwma. “That’s why emotions run deep on these issues, and why we’re trying to get the Bears Ears monument enacted.”

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We are almost assuredly living in the hottest year ever recorded, according to NASA

Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 @ 7:35 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Last month “was the warmest September in 136 years of modern record-keeping,” reports NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

This follows a record-setting July and August, which were so hot, they tied each other for the “warmest month ever recorded.”

Indeed, it now appears 2016 will crush the previous record for hottest year, set in 2015, which itself crushed the previous record for hottest year that was set in 2014 — a three-year run never seen before in the 136-year temperature record.

And this means the recent bouts of extreme weather “will be routine all too soon, but then even worse records will be set,” says climatologist Kevin Trenberth.

There’s only way to stop this chain of ever-more extreme and dangerous records: slash carbon pollution ASAP.



Nearly 200 Nations Agree To Cut Greenhouse Gases In Landmark Climate Change Deal

Posted by on Oct 16, 2016 @ 11:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Nearly 200 nations have agreed a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, a major move against climate change that prompted loud cheers when it was announced on October 15, 2016.

The deal, which includes the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, divides countries into three groups with different deadlines to reduce the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which can be 10,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases.

“While diplomacy is never easy, we can work together to leave our children a planet that is safer, more prosperous, more secure, and more free than the one that was left for us,” the White House said in a statement on the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal was “a monumental step forward” as he left the talks in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the United States, commit to reducing their use of the gases incrementally, starting with a 10 percent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 percent by 2036. Many wealthier nations have already begun to reduce their use of HFCs.

Two groups of developing countries will freeze their use of the gases by either 2024 or 2028, and then gradually reduce their use. India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the Gulf countries will meet the later deadline.

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This little-noticed court settlement will probably save millions of wild animals

Posted by on Oct 16, 2016 @ 7:37 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Somewhere in America, a wild animal is about to die.

A leg trap has been set. Bait laced with poison has been laid out. A cage that no one will check for days is open and inviting with food inside. A little-known division of the federal Agriculture Department called Wildlife Services kills about 4,000 animals every day. Many of them are invasive species that don’t belong in the United States, but to the dismay of conservationists, native animals such as beavers, bears, wolves, bobcats, alligators, prairie dogs, otters and owls are also being snuffed out.

Last year, 3.2 million animals were killed. Over the past 10 years, the toll surpasses 35 million. But a recent settlement reached at a federal court in Nevada might one day dramatically lower these numbers. A small animal rights group, WildEarth Guardians, argued in a lawsuit that the science in an analysis that Wildlife Services uses to justify its kills in state wilderness and wilderness study areas is out of date, and the agency settled by agreeing to an update that will probably take two years.

Until the new analysis is drafted, debated in public forms and finalized, Wildlife Services will not operate in 6 million acres of Nevada wilderness — remote areas where no roads exist. “They will send instruction to everyone who works for them that they can no longer use that assessment,” said Bethany Cotton, the wildlife program director for WildEarth. “They will post that commitment on their website. That’s why this has much broader implications than just Nevada.”

“I think it’s a significant shift in how the program operates, and my hope is that officials will embrace the science and the modern ethics around the treatment of wildlife,” Cotton said.

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Foothills Conservancy Protects 208 Acres at Bear Den Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway

Posted by on Oct 15, 2016 @ 11:28 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Foothills Conservancy Protects 208 Acres at Bear Den Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway

The scenic view from the popular Bear Den Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway is now permanently protected thanks to Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.

Foothills Conservancy moved swiftly to acquire 208 forested acres along 1.6 miles of the parkway between mileposts 323 and 325 in McDowell County. The conservancy purchased the tract on September 20 from the Moody family, who own the popular Bear Den Campground.

The land trust’s acquisition was made possible by a generous gift of $898,000 from Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, a $22,000 grant from Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), and a $590,000 loan from CTNC’s Mountain Revolving Loan Fund, which is also underwritten by the Stanbacks. The loan fund enables land trusts to respond quickly when critical conservation properties become available.

“We are very pleased to protect spectacular vistas at the Bear Den Overlook, one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s most loved vantage points enjoyed by countless visitors each year,” said Tom Kenney, land protection director for Foothills Conservancy. “The land’s protected source streams that feed Honeycutt Creek and its natural habitats at 3,000 feet elevation add great value to and buffer the adjoining parkway.”

Foothills Conservancy plans to transfer the property to the National Park Service for addition to the Blue Ridge Parkway lands after raising additional public and private funds to retire the loan.



The Civilized Black Bears of Asheville, North Carolina

Posted by on Oct 15, 2016 @ 11:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Last summer, Colleen Boll was doing some work around the house when she heard her dog barking from a different room. “It was an interesting kind of bark,” she says, “so I looked out.” Right smack in her yard, pacing around inside her chain link fence, was an enormous, glossy black bear.

Boll watched the bear puzzle out how to hop the fence. “Eventually, it grabs the trunk of a tree and climbs over,” she remembers. “And I see the pipe at the top of the chain link fence bend way down under the weight of this huge bear. And then I realize, oh—that’s what all those little bends are, in all my fences all around my house.”

Boll doesn’t live deep in the woods. She lives in Asheville, the 11th most populous city in North Carolina, and increasingly well-known as both a hip travel destination and a great place to live. Over the past decade, Asheville has racked up all kinds of accolades: according to one list of fawning headlines, it’s “Fantastically Yoga-Friendly,” “One of America’s 12 Greatest Music Cities,” “The Biggest Little Culinary Capital in America,” “#1 Beer City USA,” and “America’s #1 Quirkiest Town.”

Somewhat more quietly, it’s also one of America’s Best Cities for Bears. They hang out near the local hospital, and at the storied Grove Park Inn. Mailmen regularly run into them on their routes. Last August, a bear broke into an Asheville man’s home and stole a stick of butter out of his kitchen trash. “I never saw a black bear until I moved to the city,” Boll says.

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Forest Service Asheville Office Temporarily Closing for Renovations

Posted by on Oct 15, 2016 @ 7:48 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S. Forest Service will temporarily close the visitors lobby in its Asheville office on Zillicoa for renovations during the week of October 24, 2016.

The office is expected to re-open October 31. During the closure, visitor services will be available at other U.S. Forest Service offices including:

Appalachian Ranger District
632 Manor Road
Mars Hill, NC 28754
(828) 689-9694

Grandfather Ranger District
109 Lawing Drive
Nebo, NC 28761
(828) 652-2144

Pisgah Ranger District
1600 Pisgah Highway
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
(828) 877-3265

The location and contact information for other U.S. Forest Service offices in North Carolina is available here. For more information please call the National Forests in North Carolina at 828-247-4200.


Great Barrier Reef pronounced dead by scientists

Posted by on Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:33 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.

For most of its life, the reef was the world’s largest living structure, and the only one visible from space. It was 1,400 miles long, with 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands. In total area, it was larger than the United Kingdom, and it contained more biodiversity than all of Europe combined.

It harbored 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 species of mollusk, 450 species of coral, 220 species of birds, and 30 species of whales and dolphins. Among its many other achievements, the reef was home to one of the world’s largest populations of dugong and the largest breeding ground of green turtles.

The reef was born on the eastern coast of the continent of Australia during the Miocene epoch. Its first 24.99 million years were seemingly happy ones, marked by overall growth. It was formed by corals, which are tiny anemone-like animals that secrete shell to form colonies of millions of individuals. Its complex, sheltered structure came to comprise the most important habitat in the ocean.

As sea levels rose and fell through the ages, the reef built itself into a vast labyrinth of shallow-water reefs and atolls extending 140 miles off the Australian coast and ending in an outer wall that plunged half a mile into the abyss. With such extraordinary diversity of life and landscape, it provided some of the most thrilling marine adventures on earth to humans who visited. Its otherworldly colors and patterns will be sorely missed.

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Fire Danger Increasing in Western North Carolina

Posted by on Oct 13, 2016 @ 5:04 pm in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Fire Danger Increasing in Western North Carolina

The U.S. Forest Service and the North Carolina Forest Service are warning the public of increasing fire danger in western North Carolina.

Last weekend’s rainfall was not widespread and not enough to alleviate the dry conditions and persistent drought that has resulted from low rainfall in the past few months. Fuels in the forest will readily burn if ignited. Fire danger is predicted to remain high for the rest of October and into December.

Both agencies would like to remind the public to use caution in any outdoor burning. Even when burn-bans are not in effect, conditions may not be advisable for outdoor fires. The public is discouraged from burning yard waste during periods of low humidity or high winds.

For people who choose to burn debris, the N.C. Forest Service offers the following tips to protect property and prevent wildfires:
* Always consider alternatives to burning.
* Obtain a burning permit at an NCFS office or online
* Check the weather – don’t burn on dry, windy days.
* Know your local burning laws.
* Be prepared with water, a shovel and phone.
* Stay with your fire until it is completely out.

Studies have shown that taking these and other measures can greatly reduce wildfires and the loss of property associated with them. Take time now to prepare your home against wildfires. Tips on protecting your property can be found at

Additionally, campfires can be a source of wildfires. Follow these guidelines to help prevent wildfires:
* Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible
* Pour lots of water on the fire, drown ALL embers, not just the red ones
* Pour until hissing sound stops
* Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel
* Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers
* Stir and make sure everything is wet and they are cold to the touch
* If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix enough dirt or sand with the embers.
* Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool.
* Do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.

Learn more about fire safety at and Remember…only YOU can prevent wildfires.


Climate Change Is Causing Earlier Springs in National Parks

Posted by on Oct 12, 2016 @ 2:33 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The National Park Service was created to protect and preserve the United States’ natural wonders. But what happens when climate change starts to alter these sites?

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a new report revealing that three-quarters of 276 national parks are experiencing an earlier onset of spring. Half of the parks studied are experiencing “extreme” early springs.

The report authors discovered this by looking at historical data dating back to 1901.

For the parks in the “extreme” category, they found that “the onset of spring is earlier than 95 percent of the historical range,” says Jake Weltzin, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the authors of the report. “And we’re talking on the order of weeks.”

“Biological invasions are a really big deal in the national parks,” he says. In Saguaro National Park, Arizona, near where Weltzin lives, one of the invasive species that park staff struggle with most is buffelgrass.

“The warmer the winter and the warmer the spring, the sooner it can start growing,” Weltzin says of buffelgrass. “And so a lot of the other native plants are sort of sequestered in place.”

Another problem that earlier springs present for parks is a mismatch between plants and pollinators.

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(Ed. note) I volunteer as a citizen scientist in Great Smoky Mountains National Park recording statistics for this very thing. The ranger scientists who are monitoring the data say the mismatch between plants and pollinators is becoming a problem in the Smokies. Look for more issues of this nature in the future if more is not done to stifle the onset of climate change.


North Carolina’s record floods could have unexpected environmental consequences

Posted by on Oct 11, 2016 @ 6:54 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Hurricane Matthew swept across the southeastern seaboard of the United States this weekend, bringing intense rainfall to North Carolina and triggering record flooding across much of the state. But as the rains subside and clearer weather rolls in, some environmentalists are raising alarm bells about the potential for yet another environmental disaster.

Over the weekend, Hurricane Matthew — which had been downgraded to a tropical cyclone by Sunday — brought as much as 18 inches of rainfall to parts of North Carolina, causing rivers across the state to reach dangerously high levels. The record-breaking floods have already damaged thousands of homes and left thousands of residents stranded. The state also suffered the highest number of causalities in the U.S. from the storm— nearly half of the 23 people killed lived in North Carolina.

As of Tuesday, the rains have stopped and forecasts look clear, but North Carolina residents could see more repercussions from the record-high water levels: Environmentalists in the state are warning that cresting rivers have the potential to flood facilities storing animal waste or toxic coal ash, potentially sending those waste products into rivers and groundwater.

Aerial imagery released by Waterkeeper Alliance show some inactive coal ash ponds currently underwater, with others very close to rivers that are expected to crest in the coming days.

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World moves to offset airplane emissions in landmark deal

Posted by on Oct 9, 2016 @ 7:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The aviation industry, long known for eluding emissions standards, will for the first time offset its pollution through carbon credits or funding green projects, the result of a United Nations-sponsored deal approved this week.

Delegates at the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal sealed the historic plan that some environmental advocates have deemed weak, but the industry and countries overwhelmingly favor.

Under CORSIA — short for Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation — the industry will voluntarily (at first) offset its emissions through the purchase of credits, or the funding of still unspecified projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere.

CORSIA applies only to international flights, which make up about 60 percent of aviation-related emissions, according to the Associated Press. Domestic flight emissions fall under the Paris Accord, a global agreement that just passed the threshold to enter into force in early November.

Important airport hubs will fall under the plan, as some 65 countries — including the United States, Mexico, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore — agreed to participate.

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Move To Change Access To Fiery Furnace In Arches National Park Draws Ire

Posted by on Oct 6, 2016 @ 7:16 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

A move Superintendent Kate Cannon believes will lead to better management of visitation to the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park has drawn the ire of guiding businesses and a member of Congress, who see the changes as unnecessary and economically crippling to the guides and damaging to the unique geologic niche of the park.

A red rock maze of fins, arches, and canyons in the heart of the park, the Fiery Furnace long has been a highlight for many visitors to Arches in southeastern Utah. Up until 2008 or 2009, according to the superintendent, 125 people were able to enter the Fiery Furnace each day: 50 went with ranger-guided tours, and the remaining 75 were individual parties that succeeded in landing a permit (currently $6 per person 13 and older, $3 for those aged 5-12). But then, 25 permits were taken away from the general public and distributed to commercial guiding services, explained Superintendent Cannon.

Since that option was added, the number of guiding businesses holding Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) for leading hikes in the park rose dramatically, to nearly 90 today, she said.

“When you get that many people with the potential (to seek permits), there gets to be competition between the different companies. And it gets pretty hard to manage. There’s not really a good way to manage it,” she said. “We’ve just manufactured an untenable management scheme. I don’t think when the decision was made to start with CUAs we ever thought that it would get so large that there’s no reasonable way to fairly distribute those few spaces.”

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