From New World Encyclopedia
State of Oregon
Flag of Oregon State seal of Oregon
Flag (obverse) Seal
Nickname(s): Beaver State
Motto(s): Alis volat propriis (Latin = She flies with her own wings)
Map of the United States with Oregon highlighted
Official language(s) De jure: None
De facto: English
Capital Salem
Largest city Portland
Largest metro area Portland metropolitan area
Area  Ranked 9th
 - Total 98,381 sq mi
(255,026 km²)
 - Width 400 miles (640 km)
 - Length 360 miles (580 km)
 - % water 2.4
 - Latitude 42° N to 46° 18′ N
 - Longitude 116° 28′ W to 124° 38′ W
Population  Ranked 27th in the U.S.
 - Total 3,871,859 (2011 est)[1]
- Density 40.3/sq mi  (15.6/km2)
Ranked 39th in the U.S.

 - Highest point Mount Hood[2][3]
11,249 ft  (3,428.8 m)
 - Mean 3,300 ft  (1,000 m)
 - Lowest point Pacific Ocean[2]
0 ft  (0 m)
Admission to Union  February 14, 1859 (33rd)
Governor John Kitzhaber (D)
Lieutenant Governor Kate Brown (D)
U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D)
Jeff Merkley (D)
Time zones  
 - most of state Pacific: UTC-8/-7
 - most of Malheur County Mountain: UTC-7/-6
Abbreviations OR Ore. US-OR
Web site www.oregon.gov

Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States located on the Pacific coast south of Washington and north of California. Nevada is to its southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern boundaries, respectively.

The valley of the Willamette River in western Oregon is the most densely populated and agriculturally productive region of the state and is home to eight of the ten most populous cities. Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, was the first permanent English speaking settlement in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains.

Oregon is home to some of the largest salmon fishing industries in the world. Tourism is also strong in the state; Oregon's evergreen mountain forests, waterfalls, pristine lakes, including Crater Lake National Park, and scenic beaches draw visitors year round.

The towering redwood trees along the rain-prevalent Oregon coast provide a dramatic contrast with the lower-density and fire-prone pine tree and juniper forests covering parts of the eastern half of the state. The eastern part of the state also includes semi-arid scrublands, prairies, deserts, and meadows. These drier areas stretch eastward from Central Oregon.


The origin of the name "Oregon" is unknown. One theory is that French explorers called the Columbia River "Hurricane River" (le fleuve aux ouragans), because of the strong winds of the Columbia Gorge.

One account, endorsed as the "most plausible explanation" in Oregon Geographic Names, was advanced by George R. Stewart in 1944. According to him, the name came from an engraver's error in a French map published in the early 1700s, on which the Ouisiconsink (Wisconsin) River was spelled "Ouaricon-sint," broken on two lines with the -sint below, so that there appeared to be a river flowing to the west named "Ouaricon."

According to the Oregon Tourism Commission, present-day Oregonians pronounce the state's name as "OR-UH-GUN never OR-EE-GONE," as sometimes pronounced in other parts of the country.[4]


Nearly half of Oregon's land is held by the National Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.[5]

Oregon's geography may be split roughly into seven areas:

  • Oregon Coast—west of the Coast Range
  • Willamette Valley
  • Rogue Valley
  • Cascade Mountains
  • Klamath Mountains
  • Columbia River Plateau
  • Basin and Range Region

The mountainous regions of western Oregon were formed by the volcanic activity of Juan de Fuca Plate, a tectonic plate that poses a continued threat of volcanic activity and earthquakes in the region. The most recent major activity was the 1700 Cascadia earthquake; Washington's Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980, an event that was visible from the city of Portland, Oregon.

The Columbia River, which constitutes much of the northern border of Oregon, also played a major role in the region's geological evolution, as well as its economic and cultural development. The Columbia is one of North America's largest rivers, and the only river to cut through the Cascades. About 15,000 years ago, the Columbia repeatedly flooded much of Oregon; the modern fertility of the Willamette Valley is largely a result of those floods. In the twentieth century, numerous hydroelectric dams were constructed along the Columbia, with major impacts on salmon, transportation and commerce, electric power, and flood control.

Oregon is 295 miles (475 km) north to south and 395 miles (636 km) east to west. In terms of land and water area, Oregon is the ninth largest state, covering 98,381 square miles (254,810 km²).[6] The highest point in Oregon is the summit of Mount Hood, at 11,239 feet (3,428 m), and its lowest point is sea level at the Pacific Ocean along the coast. Its mean elevation is 3,300 feet (1,006 m).

Crater Lake National Park is the state's only National Park and the site of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet (592 m).[7]

Oregon is home to what is considered the largest single organism in the world, an Armillaria ostoyae fungus beneath the Malheur National Forest of eastern Oregon.[8]

An aerial view of Oregon's Crater Lake
Sunset over Malheur Butte near Vale, Oregon.
Mount Hood, with Trillium Lake in the foreground.


Southern view of the Oregon coast from Ecola State Park, with Haystack Rock in the distance.

Oregon's climate—especially in the western part of the state—is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean. The climate is generally mild, but periods of extreme hot and cold can affect parts of the state. Precipitation in the state varies widely: the deserts of eastern Oregon, such as the Alvord Desert (in the rain shadow of Steens Mountain), get as little as 200 mm (8 inches) annually, while some western coastal slopes approach 5000 mm (200 inches) annually. Oregon's population centers, which lie mostly in the western part of the state, are generally moist and mild, while the lightly populated high deserts of Central and Eastern Oregon are much drier.

Flora and fauna

Forests cover more than 40 percent of Oregon, thriving in its moist climate and rich soil. The Douglas fir is the state tree. Other trees are the Ponderosa pine, redwoods, cedars, spruces, black walnut, and bigleaf maple. Sagebrush grows in arid, eastern Oregon.

Oregon's diverse climate provides a range of habitats for wildlife. Beaver, deer, elk, antelope, bears, and cougars are numerous. Among the birds are the endangered spotted owl. Salmon have been affected by dams and power plants on the Columbia and other rivers. Other fish found in Oregon's rivers and streams include perch, bass, and steel head trout. Whales, porpoises, sea otters, and sea lions live in the waters off the coast.


A family of the Bannock Tribe, who lived in what is now southeastern Oregon and southern Idaho.

Human habitation of the Pacific Northwest began at least 15,000 years ago, with the oldest evidence of habitation in Oregon found at Fort Rock Cave and the Paisley Caves in Lake County. Archaeologist Luther Cressman dated material from Fort Rock to 13,200 years ago.[9] By 8000 B.C.E. there were settlements throughout the state, with populations concentrated along the lower Columbia River, in the western valleys, and around coastal estuaries.

By the sixteenth century Oregon was home to many Native American groups, including the Bannock, Chasta, Chinook, Kalapuya, Klamath, Molalla, Nez Perce, Takelma, and Umpqua.

James Cook explored the coast in 1778 in search of the Northwest Passage. The Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled through the region during their expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase. They built their winter fort at Fort Clatsop, near the mouth of the Columbia River. Exploration by Lewis and Clark (1805–1806) and the United Kingdom's David Thompson (1811) publicized the abundance of fur-bearing animals in the area. Also in 1811, New Yorker John Jacob Astor financed the establishment of Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River as a western outpost to his Pacific Fur Company;[10] this was the first permanent Caucasian settlement in Oregon.

In the War of 1812, the British gained control of all of the Pacific Fur Company posts. By the 1820s and 1830s, the Hudson's Bay Company dominated the Pacific Northwest from its Columbia District headquarters at Fort Vancouver (built in 1825 by the District's Chief Factor John McLoughlin across the Columbia from present-day Portland).

In 1841, the master trapper and entrepreneur Ewing Young died leaving considerable wealth and no apparent heir, and no system to probate his estate. A meeting followed Young's funeral at which a probate government was proposed. The meetings that followed were precursors to an all-citizen meeting in 1843, which instituted a provisional government headed by an executive committee. This government was the first acting public government of the Oregon Country before annexation by the government of the United States.

Map of Oregon Country

The Oregon Trail brought many new settlers to the region, starting in 1842–1843, after the United States agreed with the United Kingdom to jointly settle the Oregon Country. For some time, it seemed that these two nations would go to war for a third time in 75 years, but the border was defined peacefully in 1846 by the Oregon Treaty. The border between the United States and British North America was set at the 49th parallel. The Oregon Territory was officially organized in 1848.

Settlement increased because of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, in conjunction with the forced relocation of the Native American population to reservations. The state was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859.

In the 1880s, the proliferation of railroads assisted in marketing the state's lumber and wheat, as well as the more rapid growth of its cities.

Industrial expansion began in earnest following the construction of the Bonneville Dam in 1933-1937 on the Columbia River. Hydroelectric power, food, and lumber provided by Oregon helped fuel the development of the West, although the periodic fluctuations in the U.S. building industry have hurt the state's economy on multiple occasions.

In 1902, Oregon introduced a system of direct legislation by the state’s citizens by way of initiative and referendum, known as the Oregon System. Oregon state ballots often include politically conservative proposals side-by-side with politically liberal ones, illustrating the wide spectrum of political thought in the state.

Racial discrimination

Entering the Union at a time when the status of African Americans was very much in question, and wishing to stay out of the looming conflict between the Union and Confederate States, Oregon banned African Americans from moving into the state in the vote to adopt its constitution (1858). This ban was not officially lifted until 1925; in 2002, additional language now considered racist was struck from the Oregon constitution by the voters.

Law and government

State government

The Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem

Salem is the capital city of Oregon. It is located in the center of the Willamette Valley alongside the Willamette River, which runs north through the city. In 1851, Salem became the territorial capital after it was moved from Oregon City. The capital was moved briefly to Corvallis in 1855, but was moved back to Salem permanently that same year. Salem incorporated as a city in 1857 and with the coming of statehood in 1859 became the state capital.

Oregon state government has three branches, called departments by the state's constitution:

  • a legislative department (the bicameral Oregon Legislative Assembly),
  • an executive department, which includes an "administrative department" and Oregon's governor serving as chief executive, and
  • a judicial department, headed by the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.

Governors in Oregon serve four-year terms and are limited to two consecutive terms, but an unlimited number of total terms. Oregon has no lieutenant governor; in the event that the office of governor is vacated, the Secretary of State is first in line for succession. The other statewide officers are Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent, and Labor Commissioner.

The biennial Oregon Legislative Assembly consists of a 30-member Senate and a 60-member House. The state supreme court has seven elected justices, currently including the only two openly gay state supreme court justices in the nation. They choose one of their own to serve a six-year term as Chief Justice. The only court that may reverse or modify a decision of the Oregon Supreme Court is the Supreme Court of the United States.

The debate over whether to move to annual sessions is a long-standing battle in Oregon politics, but the voters have resisted the move from citizen legislators to professional lawmakers. Because Oregon's state budget is written in two-year increments and its revenue is based largely on income taxes, it is often significantly over- or under-budget. Recent legislatures have had to be called into special session repeatedly to address revenue shortfalls.


The flags of the United States and Oregon flown side-by-side in downtown Portland.

Oregonians have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1988. In 2004 and 2006, Democrats won control of the state Senate and then the House. Since the late 1990s, Oregon has been represented by four Democrats and one Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, and by one U.S. senator from each party.

The base of Democratic support is largely concentrated in the urban centers of the Willamette Valley. In both 2000 and 2004, the Democratic presidential candidate won Oregon, but did so with majorities in only eight of Oregon's 36 counties. The eastern two-thirds of the state beyond the Cascade Mountains often votes Republican. However, the region's sparse population means that the more populous counties in the Willamette Valley usually carry the day in statewide elections.

In the 2004 general election, Oregon voters passed ballot measures banning gay marriage, and restricting land use regulation. In the 2006 general election, voters restricted the use of eminent domain and extended the state's discount prescription drug coverage.

Oregon voter registration by party, 1950–2006

During Oregon's history it has adopted many electoral reforms proposed during the Progressive Era, through the efforts of William S. U'Ren and his Direct Legislation League. Under his leadership, the state overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 1902 that created the initiative and referendum processes for citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or amendments to the state constitution, making Oregon the first state to adopt such a system. Today, roughly half of U.S. states do so.[11]

In following years, the primary election to select party candidates was adopted in 1904, and in 1908 the Oregon constitution was amended to include recall of public officials. More recent amendments include the nation's first doctor-assisted suicide law, called the 'Death with Dignity' law (which was challenged, unsuccessfully, in 2005 by the Bush administration in a case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court), legalization of medical cannabis, and among the nation's strongest anti-urban sprawl and pro-environment laws. More recently, 2004's Measure 37 reflects a backlash against such land use laws. However, a further ballot measure in 2007, Measure 49, curtailed many of the provisions of 37.

Of the measures placed on the ballot since 1902, the people have passed 99 of the 288 initiatives and 25 of the 61 referendums on the ballot, though not all of them survived challenges in courts. During the same period, the legislature has referred 363 measures to the people, of which 206 have passed.

Oregon pioneered the American use of postal voting, beginning with experimentation authorized by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1981 and culminating with a 1998 ballot measure mandating that all counties conduct elections by mail.

Oregon has supported Democratic candidates in the last six presidential elections. Democrat Barack Obama won the state in 2008 by a margin of 14 percentage points, with 56 percent of the popular vote.


The Oregon State Quarter features Crater Lake.

The fertile land in the Willamette Valley is the source of a wealth of agricultural products, including potatoes, peppermint, hops, apples, and other fruits.

Oregon is one of four major hazelnut-growing regions in the world and produces 95 percent of the domestic hazelnuts in the United States. While the history of wine production in Oregon can be traced to before Prohibition, it became a significant industry beginning in the 1970s. In 2005, Oregon ranked third among U.S. states with 303 wineries. Due to regional similarities in climate and soil, the grapes planted in Oregon are often the same varieties found in the French regions of Alsace and Burgundy. In the northeastern region of the state, particularly around Pendleton, both irrigated and dry land wheat is grown. Oregon farmers and ranchers also produce cattle, sheep, dairy products, eggs and poultry.

Vast forests have historically made Oregon one of the nation's major timber production and logging states, but forest fires (such as the Tillamook Burn), over-harvesting, and lawsuits over the proper management of the extensive federal forest holdings have reduced the amount of timber produced. Even the shift in recent years toward finished goods such as paper and building materials has not slowed the decline of the timber industry in the state and thus of former lumber company towns. Despite these changes, Oregon still leads the United States in softwood lumber production.

A grain elevator storing grass seed, one of the state's largest crops.

High-technology industries and services have been a major employer since the 1970s. Tektronix was the largest private employer in Oregon until the late 1980s. Intel's creation and expansion of several facilities in eastern Washington County continued the growth that Tektronix had started. Intel, the state's largest private employer, operates four large facilities. The spinoffs and startups that were produced by these two companies led to the establishment in that area of the so-called Silicon Forest. The recession and dot-com bust of 2001 hit the region hard; many high-technology employers reduced the number of their employees or went out of business. In the early twenty-first century, biotechnology giant Genentech purchased several acres of land in Hillsboro in an effort to expand its production capabilities.

Oregon is also the home of large corporations in other industries. The world headquarters of Nike, Inc. is located near Beaverton.

Oregon has one of the largest salmon-fishing industries in the world, although ocean fisheries have reduced the river fisheries in recent years. Tourism is also strong in the state; Oregon's evergreen mountain forests, waterfalls, pristine lakes (including Crater Lake), and scenic beaches draw visitors year round.

Oregon is home to a number of smaller breweries, and Portland has the largest number of breweries of any city in the world.[12]

Oregon's gross state product is $132.66 billion as of 2006, making it the 27th largest GSP in the nation.[13]

Oregon is one of only five states that have no sales tax. Oregon voters have been resolute in their opposition to a sales tax, voting proposals down each of the nine times they have been presented. The last vote, for 1993's Measure 1, was defeated by a 72–24 percent margin. The state relies almost entirely on property and income taxes for its revenue. Oregon has the fifth highest personal income tax per person in the nation.

Oregon is one of six states with a revenue limit. The "kicker law" stipulates that when income tax collections exceed state economists' estimates by 2 percent or more, all of the excess must be returned to taxpayers.[14] Since the inception of the law in 1979, refunds have been issued for seven of the eleven biennia.


Portland is Oregon's largest city. More than 42 percent of the state's population lives in the Portland Metropolitan area.

As of 2005, Oregon had an estimated population of 3,641,056, which was an increase of 49,693, or 1.4 percent, from the prior year and an increase of 219,620, or 6.4 percent, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 75,196 people and an increase due to net migration of 150,084 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 72,263 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 77,821 people.

The largest reported ancestry groups in Oregon are: German (20.5 percent), English (13.2 percent), Irish (11.9 percent), American (6.2 percent), and Mexican (5.5 percent). Most Oregon counties are inhabited principally by residents of European ancestry. Concentrations of Mexican-Americans are highest in Malheur and Jefferson counties.

Oregon ranks 16th highest for population that is "white alone," with 86.1 percent in 2006.[15]

Population trends

Estimates released in September 2004 show double-digit growth in Latino and Asian-American populations since the 2000 census. About 60 percent of the 138,197 new residents come from ethnic and racial minorities. Asian growth is located mostly in the metropolitan areas of Portland, Salem, Medford, and Eugene; Hispanic population growth is across the state.


The largest religious denominations by number of adherents in 2000 were the Roman Catholic Church with 348,239; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 104,312; and the Assemblies of God with 49,357.[16]

Of the U.S. states, Oregon has the fourth largest percentage of people identifying themselves as "non-religious," at 21 percent, after Colorado, Washington, and Vermont. However, 75-79 percent of Oregonians identify themselves as being Christian. Oregon also contains the largest community of Russian Old Believers to be found in the United States.[17]

Additionally, Oregon, particularly the Portland metropolitan area, has become known as a center of non-mainstream spirituality. The Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association, reported to be the largest such institution of its kind, is headquartered in Portland, and the popular New Age film What the Bleep Do We Know? was filmed and had its premiere in Portland. There are an estimated six to ten thousand Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds in the state.

Map of Oregon's population density.
Oregon population by county. Source: Population Research Center.
Population Growth by County, 2000-2007. Green counties grew faster than the national average, while purple counties grew more slowly or, in a few cases, lost population.


Oregon State University's Bell Tower.

Primary and secondary

As of 2005, there were 199 public school districts in the state. The five largest as of 2007 were: Portland Public Schools (46,262 students), Salem-Keizer School District (40,106), Beaverton School District (37,821), Hillsboro School District (20,401), and Eugene School District (18,025).[18]

Colleges and universities

There are seven publicly financed colleges in the Oregon University System. Oregon State University in Corvallis and the University of Oregon in Eugene are the two flagship universities of the state, while Portland State University has the largest enrollment. Oregon State University holds the distinction of being the state's flagship in science, engineering and agricultural research and academics.

The state has three regional universities: Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Southern Oregon University in Ashland, and Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.

Oregon has historically struggled to fund higher education. It 2008 it ranked 46th in the country in state spending per student. However, 2007 legislation forced tuition increases to cap at 3 percent per year, and funded the system beyond the governor's requested budget.[19] The state also supports 17 community colleges. Oregon is home to a wide variety of private colleges as well.

Looking to the future

Oregon is set amid great natural beauty and makes an effort to preserve and enhance it. Although it is a major worldwide shipping port, Portland is known for its public gardens and parks. The city encourages the use of bicycles by commuters. Oregonians also try to restrict land purchases by individuals along the coast, preserving its beauties for the public. Visitors are also drawn to the majestic Cascades, home of Mount Hood and Crater Lake National Park. Despite these measures, some Oregonians worry about the negative effects of too many tourists and the activities they engage in, such as snowmobiling, in the state's natural areas.

Oregon has been the largest producer of lumber in the United States since 1938, but environmental legislation has placed limits on cutting trees on federal land. As part of the compromise reached between the concerns of loggers and environmentalists, loggers were trained for new jobs. The development of high-tech industries and tourism provides new opportunities.

Federal payments to county governments, which were granted to replace timber revenue when logging in National Forests was restricted in the 1990s, have been under threat of suspension for several years. This issue dominates discussions of the future of rural counties, which have come to rely on the payments in providing essential services.

Population growth in the Willamette Valley is reducing the amount of land available for agriculture and adding to the demands for water.

The Rose Garden, home of the Portland Trail Blazers
The Oregon-grape, Oregon's state flower.
Columbia River Gorge near Crown Point, Oregon.


  1. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified (CSV). 2011 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division (December 2011).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Elevations and Distances in the United States. United States Geological Survey (2001). Retrieved October 24, 2011.
  3. Elevation adjusted to North American Vertical Datum of 1988.
  4. Travel Oregon. Oregon Fast Facts Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  5. WildlandFire. November 13, 2007. Western States Data Public Land Acreage Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  6. U.S. Census Bureau. United States—States; and Puerto Rico: GCT-PH1-R. Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  7. National Park Service. Crater Lake National Park Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  8. Bob Beale. April 10, 2003. Humungous fungus: world's largest organism? Environment & Nature News; ABC Online. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  9. William G. Robbins. Oregon: This Storied Land. (Oregon Historical Society Press, 2005. ISBN 09875952860)
  10. Willam G. Loy, Stuart Allan, Aileen R. Buckley, James E. Meecham. Atlas of Oregon. (University of Oregon Press, 2001. ISBN 0871141027), 12–13
  11. State Initiative & Referendum Institute at USC. State Initiative and Referendum Summary.
  12. John Foyston. July 23, 2005. Oregon's Beer Week gets under way. Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  13. Bureau of Economic Analysis - U.S. Department of Commerce. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by State, 2006 Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  14. State of Oregon. January 2007. Oregon's 2% Kicker Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  15. US Census Bureau. R0201. Percent of the Total Population Who Are White Alone: 2006 Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  16. The Association of Religion Data Archives. State Membership Report Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  17. Joshua Binus. The Oregon History Project: Russian Old Believers. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  18. Oregon Department of Education. February 6, 2008. Oregon Public School Enrollment Increases during 2007-08. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  19. Mike O'Brien. June 29, 2007. Higher Education Get Higher Priority Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved November 16, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bratvold, Gretchen. 2003. Oregon. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications. ISBN 0822540991
  • Ingram, W. Scott. 2000. Oregon. New York: Children's Press. ISBN 0516209965
  • Kent, Deborah. 2009. Oregon. New York: Children's Press. ISBN 9780531185872
  • Mitchell, S. Augustus. 1846. Accompaniment to Mitchell's New map of Texas, Oregon, and California, with the regions adjoining. Online version Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  • Mitchell, S. Augustus. 1846. New map of Texas, Oregon and California with the regions adjoining, compiled from the more recent authorities. Online version Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
  • Robbins, William G. Oregon: This Storied Land. Oregon Historical Society Press, 2005. ISBN 09875952860.
  • Townsend, John Kirk. 1839. Excursion to the Oregon. Online version Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved November 16, 2008.

External links

All links retrieved November 17, 2022.

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