Can it dispell some ridiculous myths? ……Please?

OR7, aka Journey, the wolf who travelled from northeast Oregon into northern California and now back to southern Oregon, isn’t unique among his species but for one thing, he is still alive.  After traveling long distance with a lot of people following his GPS collar from their computers and the hysteria surrounding him, he survived.

This isn’t the first time that a GPS collared wolf has travelled a long distance while biologists have watched from a computer though. There have been several instances of this, most publicly was the wolf that travelled from Montana a few years ago through parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and into Colorado where it was eventually killed by poison. There have also been GPS collared wolves that have travelled south from Canada – you know, those “Canadian” wolves – into Idaho. There have been several long dispersals of wolves documented since the wolf reintroduction program began.

Are these new occurrences that only occurred after the reintroduction? Of course not. Does it only happen with the wolves that were reintroduced to central Idaho and Yellowstone? Of course not. Remember the wolf killed in Missouri a couple of years ago?  Or the wolf killed in western Massachusetts in 2008?  They both came from the western Great Lakes or Algonquin Parks populations. Is this behavior seen in Mexican gray wolves? Well, it would be if humans allowed them to leave their isolated chunks of Arizona and New Mexico.

Common wisdom among the public in the Northern Rockies, a common wisdom that is found in the comments section of every news article that even mentions wolves on the Internet, is that the wolves reintroduced to central Idaho and Yellowstone are bigger, more aggressive, and form bigger packs. According to the common wisdom found here in the Northern Rockies is that these “Canadian” wolves are 200 pound behemoths or are about 30-50 pounds bigger than the “native” wolves.  They also claim that the “native” wolves that lived here in a population of 80 or so were smaller and somehow managed to live in harmony with livestock and the deer and elk herds.  The “native” wolves, commonly described as being about half the size of the “Canadian” wolves, were only visible to those special people who knew of their existence.  The “native” wolves were also a different subspecies of wolf and those “Canadian” wolves are a different subspecies that didn’t live here before. At least that’s what the common wisdom of those “special” people tells us.  That’s all bullshit.

Let’s dissect some of this common wisdom. First, and most importantly, let’s look at this subspecies argument. For a species, or subspecies according to the argument presented, to remain discreet from other subspecies there has to be some barrier to interbreeding with other, similar subspecies. But, by definition, one subspecies can interbreed with another and have fertile offspring.  This means that if a wolf from Canada, or another part of the continent, were able to actually travel to central Idaho or another place in the Northern Rockies, then it would be able to mate and have fertile offspring with one of those special “native” wolves.

Second, subspecies have to remain physically isolated, for a long enough period of time, from each other to develop a discreetness big enough for them to be able to be classified as a separate subspecies. But wait, didn’t we just see a wolf from northeast Oregon travel across some pretty inhospitable country into northern California where there used to be wolves up until the 1920’s? And isn’t this a rare occurrence? Yes, we did, and no, it isn’t. Funny thing. Doesn’t that mean that wolves could have walked down from Canada into central Idaho before the reintroduction or the massive slaughter that essentially wiped out wolves here before? Or could the opposite be true? Wolves from Idaho couldn’t have walked up to Canada and bred with those bigger, aggressive behemoth wolves could they? Well, yeah. They could have and they did.

When wolves were reintroduced to the northern Rockies there were already wolves that had recolonized on their own in Montana. But there weren’t any wolves in Idaho or Yellowstone that anyone could confirm. Well, not so fast. There were at least three males that paired with reintroduced females, forming their own packs. One in the northwest part of the Frank Church Wilderness, one in the White Cloud Mountains, and one with a radio collar that travelled from northwest Montana into the Kelly Creek area of northern Idaho. There were also sporadic reports of wolves in the southern part of the Frank Church Wilderness of a group of wolves in the early nineties. I even heard one while working in Landmark, Idaho in the summer of 1992 and one of my coworkers claimed to have seen two of them on Sulphur Creek the previous summer. There were also documented wolves killed in the late 70’s, one filmed in Bear Valley, and one found dying of poison near Bear Valley.  I fact, the latter wolf was stuffed and is displayed in the Nature Center next to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game offices in Boise.

The wolf found poisoned in Idaho before reintroduction.  You can see it at the Nature Center in Boise.

The wolf found poisoned in Idaho before reintroduction. You can see it at the Nature Center in Boise.

Did these wolves comprise a population?  That is an important consideration when considering reintroduction of an endangered species but one that can easily be answered.  No is the answer.  Three males does not meet the definition of a population.

Could wolves have recolonized Idaho on their own? Well, that’s another question entirely and one which also would have depended on survival of wolves that actually made it here. As I mentioned earlier, nearly all of the wolves that were documented in Idaho previous to the reintroduction eventually died from human causes. They weren’t surviving. There was an underground, but probably unorganized, campaign to kill off wolves as they appeared in the state. But they were coming here on their own and people knew it.  In fact a Republican Idaho senator, the late James McClure , saw the writing on the wall and proposed legislation to reintroduce wolves as an experimental, nonessential population so that wolves would have less protection and could be killed to protect livestock.  As the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website says:

May 1990 – U.S. Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, introduces legislation mandating the return of the gray wolf to Yellowstone National Park and creating protected recovery areas in Glacier National Park and in wilderness areas of central Idaho, where limited numbers of wolves would be reintroduced. Outside the recovery areas, wolves would be removed from the endangered species list and could be considered pests or game animals. The bill did not pass.

With all of the disinformation and “common wisdom” spewed out of mouths and across the comment sections of news articles by wolf recovery opponents, it is apparent that much of what they have told people, in an effort to scare them and convince them that wolves do not belong in Idaho and the Northern Rockies, is completely bogus.  The wolves that were reintroduced into Idaho and Yellowstone were the same wolves that were here before they were slaughtered.  Get over it.

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Western Watershed Project’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Coordinator, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is also serves as a member of the board of directors for Buffalo Field Campaign and as a member of the Sierra Club Grazing Core Team.

46 Responses to What does the Long Journey of OR7 and Other Wolves Teach Us?

  1. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    You are right Ken, and when the anti-wolf reactionaries decided to use the myth that the “wrong wolf” was reintroduced they couldn’t have chosen a less appropriate argument for the reasons you state.

  2. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Ken,

    “could wolves have recolonized Idaho on their own? Well, that’s another question entirely and one which also would have depended on survival of wolves that actually made it here. As I mentioned earlier, nearly all of the wolves that were documented in Idaho previous to the reintroduction eventually died from human causes. They weren’t surviving. ”

    Well said Ken.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      To add to the above:

      This is an anti-wolf perversion of the above quote and reply to Ken, by one of our favorites.

      “This is false;  A lie by a non resident that hasn’t any proof whatsoever to back this nonsense claim; disgusting; Liars like this make me sick. This is nothing less than pure hatred and spite for the truth.”

      “all of the wolves that were documented in Idaho prior to the reintroduction eventually died from human causes.  They weren’t surviving.” — Immer Treue 

      Not what I wrote, nor the complete quote from Ken’s piece.
      Would have been nice if the said individual included the entire sentence, “As I mentioned earlier, nearly “all of the wolves that were documented in Idaho prior to the reintroduction eventually died from human causes.  They weren’t surviving.” 

      Changes the meaning quite a bit. And I’m the cherry picker.

      Here’s some rationale for my quoting Ken.  Probably more cherry picking, but with all said about were wolves present, what type of wolves, what colors add nauseum, from the foreword of Cat Urbigkit’s “Yellowstone Wolves”

      Ronald Novak

      “She has not  necessarily demonstrated that those occurrences (wolf observations: parenthesis mine) represent the continuous presence of an original breeding population. Had such a population existed, why did it not become more obvious?  Wolves are rapid breeders, capable of doubling their numbers annually?  Indeed, the wolves introduced to Yellowstone in the 1990’s quickly expanded numerically and geographically…”

      Why didn’t any surviving population show up to such an extent?  Cat suggests that the original race may have had different behavioral characteristics or that it assumed certain survival adaptations,  such as reported for remnant wolf populations in Europe. Perhaps it was more secretive, less vocal, and more solitary. Would it also have become less fecund? Actually, a wolf population distributed mainly in pairs would be expected to produce far more young than a population composed of large packs, in which reproduction tends to be restricted to one or two dominant females.”

      Hatred and spite for the truth? So, I make you sick!  Good. Go yodel in the thunder mug.

      I stand behind my quote of Ken’s thread, not your perversion of the quote.

      More to follow in the appropriate thread.

  3. avatar Larry says:

    About 1972, give or take a year, I was working with another Idaho Conservation Officer in Bear Valley. We patroled different road systems that day but when we got back together he told me (with wide eyes) he was sure he had seen a wolf. He said it was black and was not mistaken it was a wolf. Even as he told me about it he couldn’t quite believe it but yet he was positive as a game warden can be given his training/experience and life with wildlife.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      My dad, who worked for the US Forest Service on the Boise National Forest, regularly recounts a story to me about the Forest Ranger stationed at Bear Valley. Apparently the ranger was required to turn in an annual report on wildlife and every year he would write “wolf”. And, every year, the headquarters office would remove that from his reports.

      • Ken: You are undoubtedly right that there were wolves in Idaho prior to their official reintroduction.

        On my first trip to Idaho, in 1991, I was told by Forest Service people near Ketchum, that there was a pack nearby, that they had named the “Dollar Mountain Pack,” but that they were keeping quiet about their existence.

  4. avatar Richie G says:

    Nice article Ken, I like how you stick to your guns when it comes to nature and the wildlife that nature has to offer,and of course the wolf.

  5. avatar Robert Goldman says:

    Wondeful, Ken. Our side, which respectfully and humanely supports living wolves and all native wildlife is fighting the very darkest aspects of European American culture. The same dark side that persecuted and massacred Native Americans continues to persecute and massacre America’s wolves and bison and coyotes and cougars and prairie dogs and on and on. We, the humane majority, must get so strong and so powerful that we finally break the satanic power of the persecutors and killers.

  6. avatar timz says:

    Ken, you mentioned Landmark, Id. Several years ago an old timer that lived up near Warm Lake (which isn’t far from Landmark) showed me a picture he said he had taken in the late 80’s of several wolves walking around on a frozen Warm Lake.

  7. avatar Louise Kane says:

    “May 1990 – U.S. Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, introduces legislation mandating the return of the gray wolf to Yellowstone National Park and creating protected recovery areas in Glacier National Park and in wilderness areas of central Idaho, where limited numbers of wolves would be reintroduced. Outside the recovery areas, wolves would be removed from the endangered species list and could be considered pests or game animals. The bill did not pass.”

    looks like he got his wish eventually didn’t he only its even better then he could have wished for….nly Yellowstone wolves have any protections. How completely fd up!

  8. avatar Louise Kane says:

    Can anyone in their right mind consider that the wolf management plans dedicated to killing wolves to their minimal viable populations, is protection. I can hardly believe this is what America has become. That legislation did not pass but yet here we are in a worse position.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      That legislation wasn’t meant to protect wolves, it was written to allow wolves to be reintroduced as an “experimental, non-essential population” which allowed wolves to be killed for livestock depredations. Otherwise, wolves would have made it to Idaho on their own eventually and would have had full protection under the ESA.

      As we all know, wolves were reintroduced an experimental, non-essential population which is what McClure wanted in the first place.

  9. avatar Jeff says:

    Just curious based on some of your comments? How is it that the Mexican Wolf is considered a distinct sub species when they weren’t necessarily isolated from other populations and if a Lobo happened upon a GYE wolf somewhere in CO or UT would certainly produce fertile offspring. Given the genetic challenges of Lobos today and in light of what was done with Texas Cougars providing a genetic lift to Florida Panthers—why not drop a few smaller, lighter colored GYE or ID wolves in AZ or NM?

    • avatar Mark L says:

      Jeff,
      As I understand it , and somebody can correct me if I’m wrong, the lobos are not genetically bottlenecked to the degree that the panthers in Florida were, rather the more genetically diverse lobos are not being allowed to be released due to legal actions by states. They are ‘withering on the vine’ by legal actions, not lack of diverse genetics.

      • avatar Jon Way says:

        Mexican wolves are believed to be fairly distinct from other Gray Wolves because they are believed to be the result from an earlier “invasion” into North America via the Bering Land bridge and most other Gray Wolf pops are believed to be from a more recent arrival – hence, they are gray wolves but more distinct than other gray wolves – and yes, different from North American evolved coyotes, red wolves, and eastern wolves – the latter 2 of which are either the same or closely related species.

  10. avatar Mike says:

    The gun lobby and the anti-predator folks are largely the same people.

    The truth, or science is of no use to them.

    • avatar jon says:

      I agree. Why is the NRA involving itself in a lawsuit trying to keep wolves delisted? The NRA sees predators as shooting targets just like the hunters do.

  11. avatar Dean Malencik says:

    What is meant by “lot of people following his GPS collar from their computers” If this is available to the general public than this wolf will stand no chance of surviving in Soutern Oregon. Oregon, politcally, is Idaho except for the metro areas of Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, and Ashland.

    • avatar Julee Rosa says:

      Dean, OR-7’s (delayed) approximate location was made available via the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Oregon is not providing these updates and it was really reassuring to be able to check in on him just to know he was still alive while in N. CA! Sometimes he would go off the “radar” for extended periods – 13 days one time a couple of months ago and I would become very concerned for him. It was really quite comforting to be able to see his travels and know he was safe. I wish Oregon would do the same… I feel very alienated from our little buddy who I grew to feel very protective about…

  12. avatar alf says:

    I worked for the Beaverhead NF and lived in Dillon, Montana for ten years, from 1977 to ’87. I considered myself a wily hunter then (I’ve since moved on and outgrown that pursuit, and don’t feel that I have to prove my manhood anymore.)

    Within about a week, in October 1982, while hunting, I stumbled on two sets of wolf tracks, probably about 50-55 air-line miles apart. One was less than a mile from the Continental Divide – Idaho border, on the Montana side line, at the head of Maiden Creek in Horse Prairie, about 50 road miles SW of Dillon; the other was in Birch Creek in the East Pioneers, about 20 miles NW of Dillon.

    I recognized them as probably wolf tracks — too big to be domestic dog tracks, so I measured both sets and the length of the stride, and went back the next morning with the forest WL biologist to the W. Pioneer site and made plaster casts of them.

    I sent casts to Bob Ream, who was then on the wildlife biology faculty at U. Montana in Missoula, and to a graduate student of David Mech’s — Diane Boyd, I think her name was — who was studying the wolves that had moved down from Canada and were colonizing the North Fork of the Flathead River, near the Canadian border.

    Biologists being biologists, not having absolute irrefutable proof, both Ream and Boyd hedged their bets a bit, but both said that the casts were consistent with wolf tracks and that nothing disqualified them as such.

    So, long story short, I have little doubt that there was at least one wolf in SW Montana in the fall of 1982

    • avatar alf says:

      Correction : I dug out a map of the Beaverhead, and measured the distance between the two sets of tracks. It was “only” about 45 miles, not 50-55, and the date was 1980, not 1982.
      I also dug out the one last cast of the tracks I still have. I’d scratched on the back, “20 October 1980 — Bond Lake”.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        Alf – had a rancher (who lived outside of Dillon) tell me awhile back about a little black wolf that had been running around their area for years. He was very concerned about what would happen to it with all those big “Canadian” wolves around :)

  13. avatar SEAK Mossback says:

    Ken, your point is well made. We are not talking about the possibility of exotics here, being introduced to previously inaccessible habitat where prey has not been able to develop defenses. If we assume for just a second that there were differences between earlier wolves in the stateside part of the Canadian Rockies versus Canada, then those differences based on natural selection should have made original wolves more fit, not less fit, for overall survival and reproduction — including their ability to kill local prey. If, as is doubtful, wolves in Canada were significantly larger, then they may have actually had a small survival disadvantage when introduced to the south. If they did average incrementally larger, it may have been for the same reason some species like moose are thought to average larger in the north — it gives them an advantage in heat conservation (larger core to surface ratio). With climate in a warming trend, being large would be even less of an advantage for that reason. If smaller size happens to be an advantage south of Canada, then wolves in that area will eventually decrease in average size, given enough time. If there were still local wolves that did not recently trot down from the north, there were so few that the introduction of more breeders more likely saved those genes rather than obliterating them as some have claimed. I saw and got some marginal super-8 footage of two large, dark canids in the Lamar Valley about 2 miles east of Buffalo Ranch in February 1969 — One crossed the road pretty close, but a full-length leg cast from a recent spiral fracture suffered on our local Undine Falls community ski slope (owing to primitive to yester-year ski bindings) slowed my exit from the pickup. I liked to think a few had been hiding right there in Yellowstone all those years, but suspect they found their way down to wolf heaven from Alberta or B.C., the same source as the 1990s transplant. There were other similar accounts in the park about that time, and a still photo of one running in the snow (of which I still have a copy) but nothing confirmed other than they could have been wolves.

    Although the argument about size/lethality and exotic status holds no scientific water, it continues to be the go-to straw to grasp for people categorically opposed to any wolves on the modern landscape who are trying to dodge being forced into the box of arguing against restoration/protection of historically natural systems (an argument that is/should be particularly uncomfortable for outdoor users including hunters — if not, they might as well lug a side of beef out to the rifle range where nature doesn’t matter and success is assured).

  14. avatar Julee Rosa says:

    Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone… several reputable sources have reported wolf sightings in the past few years at…. Tahoe! I even know someone who has a wolf dog from the N. Tahoe area that was the result of a wolf and domestic dog pairing 3 years ago. Just saying… :) I hope they stay on the QT and safe.

  15. avatar Kevin says:

    SEAK Mossback – don’t call Alberta “wolf heaven”. Wolf heaven is south of Alberta where they get at least some level of protection. In Alberta there is a silent but highly effective war on wolves involving not only snares, traps and guns but, in several areas, government poisoning. Alberta is wolf hell these days

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      Kevin,

      He didnt.

      “I liked to think a few had been hiding right there in Yellowstone all those years, but suspect they found their way down to wolf heaven from Alberta or B.C., the same source as the 1990s transplant. There were other similar accounts in the park about that time, and a still photo of one running in the snow (of which I still have a copy) but nothing confirmed other than they could have been wolves.”

  16. avatar Jon Way says:

    All of these stories sound very similar to what is happening currently in the Northeast. We know that wolves (likely mostly eastern x gray wolf hybrids) make it to the Northeast but b.c the eastern coyote or coywolf is similar to wolves (since they are part wolf themself) larger wolves get shot and the person gets a slap in the wrist b.c they thought it was a “coyote”, which is funny b.c there are no “pure” coyotes in the Northeast since they are all western coyote x eastern wolf hybrids.

    Yet state game agencies refuse to better protect wolves (and coyotes) from getting killed saying that individuals are not a population – which is true, except that their laws (or lack thereof, like year round “coyote” seasons) are preventing pop.s from forming…

    • avatar WM says:

      Jon Way,

      Strikes me as Catch 22 logic (author Joseph Heller), from the character Milo Minderbender. Milo, of course, would find a profiteering reason for such lack of protections.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      So this ‘half of a wolf’ IS better than no wolf at all, right?

      • avatar Jon Way says:

        The eastern coyote/coywolf has genes from 2 different species as we have discussed. It could be argued that this allows wolf genes to survive where wolves themselves don’t live so that can be seen evolutionary as a good thing. The animal is clearly well adapted to this area and probably better so than either western coyotes or eastern wolves. However, ecologically it is also probably intermediate between the 2 species so while it might function as an apex predator in urbanized areas and deer dominated areas it certainly isn’t the functional equivalent of a wolf in places like the North Woods of Northern New England. In other words, we could still use wolves in those areas (ecologically speaking of course).

  17. avatar JB says:

    What I find most humorous about the ‘big bad Canadian wolf’ argument is the total disregard for the fact that elk evolved alongside many other native predators that went extinct at the end of the most recent ice age, including the American lion, saber-toothed tiger, American cheetah, and even the dire wolf. Importantly–all of these carnivores were larger than modern NA gray wolves. Yet, somehow (the story goes) our modern elk are unequipped for dealing with the big, bad 110 lb wolves from Canada?

    • avatar JB says:

      Oh, I forgot the short-faced bear, which weighed close to 1 ton!

      • avatar JB says:

        Thanks, Jon. I should also add that the wapiti survived multiple glacial periods with a cadre of large carnivores (again, all larger than modern wolves); yet, they nearly went extinct in the lower 48 because of human hunting.

    • avatar Robert R says:

      JB I’m not saying your statement Yet, somehow (the story goes) our modern elk are unequipped for dealing with the big, bad 110 lb wolves from Canada? is wrong.
      It was the lack of a large predator, so they had to adapt and make change to how and where they fed etc. yes they did have to deal with bears and lions but the elk was not their primary prey.

      • avatar Jon Way says:

        And now elk/wapiti are re-adapting to probably what they used to behave like with a suite of large predator(s) preying upon them. Work in Yellowstone shows that elk aren’t the primary prey of bears but through spring/summer calf predation, bears can kill a large % of them (much larger than wolves at that age range). But elk living in smaller groups and in more forested locales is what they probably did for millenia except for the past 100 or so years (a fairly short period)…

      • avatar JB says:

        Robert:

        I’m not sure we know the extent to which various large carnivores preyed upon variety of large mammals that existed at that time (remember, there were also mammoths, horses, etc.) as well as elk, bison, moose and deer. The point is, the elk survived despite the presence of much larger carnivores–including a much larger wolf (the dire wolf). Thus, the insistence that the ‘Canadian wolf’ is somehow too much for our elk is simply ridiculous. It’s yet another American wolf myth.

        • avatar Robert R says:

          I think it comes down to the elk had to recondition them selves to a predator they have not had to deal with for decades and then pass it on to the new recruits their calves so they can then keep passing it on.

          • avatar Immer Treue says:

            To enter the discussion on the late side, elk behavioral conditioning may have been affected after so many decades, but the hard-wiring for interaction with predation on the genetic level will not have been affected by fifty or sixty years.

          • avatar Nancy says:

            Robert R – a few years ago, I bought a handful of chicks, just a couple of days old, they came right from a hatchery.

            When they were old enough, I put them out in a protected yard. The first time a large bird flew over, a hawk if I recall, they scrambled for cover. Yet they never had adult birds around to condition them to danger.

            The idea that wolves are somehow a new predator on the landscape, is pure BS. (I witnessed 5 coyotes, trying to run down a moose calf)

            • avatar Robert R says:

              Nancy I do know rooster pheasants will try and fight off raptors by laying on there back and using their spurs to fight them off. Most game birds or domestic do not have chance if an owl is hunting them.

              • avatar Nancy says:

                Most game birds or domestics, are not running around at night :)

              • avatar Mark L says:

                I do get your point about the night, Robert R. Also, it may be that the wolves that night hunt have a different ratio of success than others….interesting point.

  18. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Here is another great question. If these native/indigenous wolves survived on mice, hare and other small mammals, and were of little threat to ungulates, why the great wolf extermination campaign for the benefit of the ranchers? What about the we got rid of them for a reason excuse? Nothing wrong with eating mice, eh?

    And before one says livestock were easy to kill, then why is there so much referral to “predator pits” by the antis in the time of Lesis and Clark? Did Jefferson send someone up to Alberta to bring down those big “Canadian” wolves to provide a challenge for the intrepid explorers?

    A wolf is a wolf.

  19. avatar Richie G. says:

    They said the same thing in 2006 when the lead wolf was killed in slue creek. They said it was a big aggressive Canada pack that killed the leader! The collar was not moving so they tried a raft to get to it, they could not trample on the land. This was Doug Smith I believe and two women biologist were their too. The next day in Lamar valley one wolf called in another to lure her so the all the pack tried to kill her. She ran to soda butt I believe I got pictures of all. The pack was the druid pack I believe.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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