Natural history fans will be happy to see the return of nature writing to the Almanack with the addition of our newest contributor Corrina Parnapy.
Corrina is a Lake George native who has been working and volunteering as a naturalist and an environmental research scientist for over ten years. Her love and interest in the Adirondacks led her to undergraduate degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies. Her professional focus has been on invasive species, fish and algae. Corrina was recently invited to sit on the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Conservation and Stewardship Committee. She currently works for both the state and on a contract basis for the FUND for Lake George, while working on a forthcoming book, A Guide to the Common Algae of the Lake George Watershed.
Please join me in welcoming Corrina as the Almanack‘s 23rd regular contributor. Her columns on the environment and natural history will appear every other week.
The signing of an important conservation easement last week protecting a large percentage of the former Finch, Pruyn lands reminds me of a visit I paid to Paul Schaefer in March, 1990. At that time, Governor Mario Cuomo had proposed an Environmental Bond Act, which required legislative approval before going to the voters (it was ultimately voted down). How was the bond act being received in the legislature, Paul asked. I gave him the news that it was having a rough reception politically. Paul remained optimistic. The bond act was important because it would permit the purchase of conservation easements in the Adirondacks, and that should be enough to tip public support in its favor, he felt.
Later that year, Paul formed Sportsmen for the Bond Act. It was one of many highly focused organizations he created in his lifetime. This effort, one of the last he personally led, revealed an evolution in Schaefer’s approach to Park conservation. Since 1930, Paul had fought for any appropriation that would add more Forest Preserve, public land protected as “forever wild” by Article 14 of the NYS Constitution that would eventually be classified wild forest or wilderness. He persuaded many organized hunters to support his wilderness philosophy. But he also came to believe that many private holdings in the Park should be available for active forest management, which he viewed as complimentary, both ecologically and aesthetically, to adjacent “forever wild” Forest Preserve. » Continue Reading.
When we needed to do an early-season ski tour for the Adirondack Explorer, we opted for the Hays Brook Truck Trail north of Paul Smiths, which needs only about six inches of snow to be skiable.
On December 7, four of us from the office spent a good part of the day gliding through fresh, fluffy powder on our way to the Sheep Meadow at the end of the truck trail and to Grass Pond via a side trail.
With snow adorning the tall pines, the forest was serene and beautiful, and we had a wonderful time. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s available online. Apart from two fairly steep hills, the truck trail traverses gentle terrain suitable for novice skiers. It’s a fun outing anytime in winter.
The biggest difficulty we faced was getting past two nasty pieces of blowdown about three miles from the trailhead. In one case, we thrashed through the woods to get around a large tree fallen across the trail.
Blowdown is something skiers and hikers put up with in the Adirondacks. It’s not a huge deal. Still, when I skied to the Sheep Meadow again with my daughter the day after Christmas, I was glad to discover that someone had cut through the blowdown with a chain saw. Hat’s off to whoever did it.
As we continued down the trail, it occurred to me that the doer of this good deed would have broken the law if the blowdown had been in a Wilderness Area instead of a Wild Forest Area. (The Hays Brook Truck Trail lies within the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.) Generally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation forbids the use of chain saws in Wilderness Areas except from April 1 to May 24. DEC can grant permission to use them from September 15 to April 1 as well, but this is not usually granted for routine blowdown such as we encountered on the Hays Brook Truck Trail.
I understand the rationale. A Wilderness Area is supposed to approximate nature in its primeval state. No motor vehicles, no snowmobiles, no bicycles, no motorized equipment.
As much as I support this management objective, I couldn’t help wondering what harm would have resulted if someone had cut through this blowdown even if it had been in a Wilderness Area. If the job were undertaken on a weekday, it’s possible that no one would have been around to hear the chain saw other than the person running the saw. In any case, the short interruption of natural serenity would serve the greater good. Although a few people who happened to be nearby might be bothered briefly by the noise, skiers would benefit all winter from the clearing of the trail.
I am not suggesting that forest rangers and others be allowed to use chain saws in Wilderness Areas anytime and anywhere. I do wonder if the regulations should be loosened somewhat to permit more clearing of trails before and during the ski season. I don’t have a specific proposal. I’m not even sure the regulations should be loosened. I’m just throwing out the idea for discussion.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced late Wednesday that the Environmental Board has approved a new regulation that sets stringent performance standards for new outdoor wood boilers (OWBs) sold in the state. The regulation will go into effect 30 days after it is filed with the Secretary of State. The stricter guidelines will ensure that new OWBs burn at least 90% cleaner than older models, according to a DEC press release.
Provisions in the regulatory proposal to phase out the use of older OWBs and place restrictions on their use in the interim have been removed and will be addressed through a new public stakeholder process to develop a revised regulatory framework to address concerns of residents impacted by the operation of such units. “This is about ensuring that new outdoor wood boilers burn cleaner — not only for people who buy OWBs and their families, but also for their neighbors. It’s not unlike the switch to cleaner cars,” said Acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz. “It’s also to ensure that OWB stacks are high enough to disperse emissions rather than having them blow directly into houses and other dwellings. That’s important for public health. Also, we have listened to the agricultural community and made appropriate exceptions for farming operations.”
The regulation approved Wednesday includes stack height requirements for new OWBs that will are expected to reduce the impact of emission plumes on neighboring property owners. In addition, new OWBs will be required to be set back a minimum of 100 feet from neighboring properties — except for OWBs used in agricultural operations, which must be at least 100 feet from neighboring homes. Both new and existing OWBs will be subject to fuel restrictions hoped to ensure that only appropriate fuels are burned.
“The new guidelines the state has set on outdoor wood boilers is a necessary step in improving the process of burning wood as a renewable energy resource and is not to stop people from burning clean wood,” said Village of Tupper Lake Mayor Mickey Demarais. “Trying to make our air cleaner and protect our residents is our responsibility and the Village supports establishing guidelines and standards on OWBs to make this happen.”
“The new regulation on OWBs is a responsible move in the right direction without being overly intrusive on the public,” said Elizabethtown Town Supervisor Noel Merrihew. “It’s a good move to put together regulations for the manufacture of the OWBs. Outside the Hamlet areas the smoke can be a problem and this assures long term environmental benefits for our state.”
The text of the final rule before the Environmental Board is available on the DEC website.
Photo: Air pollution caused by an Outdoor Wood Boiler (DEC Photo).
According to a report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Finch, Pruyn paper mill generated the most pollution of any manufacturing plant in New York last year, 31 percent more than the second heaviest polluter in the state.
The Glens Falls mill discharged some 3.8 million pounds of chemicals in 2009.
Finch’s emissions were less than 1.1 million pounds as recently as 2007, meaning that their pollution has nearly quadrupled since the long-time locally owned company was sold to a pair of outside investment groups in mid-2007. » Continue Reading.
The New York League of Conservation Voters has honored the work of The Adirondack Council at its 2010 Eco-Breakfast. Founded in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of New York’s Adirondack Park, the largest park in the contiguous United States.
The Adirondack Park contains the largest, intact deciduous forest remaining in the world. It is home to nearly all of the old-growth forest and wilderness in the Northeast. » Continue Reading.
There are many important issues for adjudication of the Adirondack Club and Resort (ACR) when the public hearing eventually begins, but perhaps the most telling will be ACR fiscal, public services, energy, housing and community impacts. These issues are incorporated in two questions which the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) ordered to go to adjudicatory public hearing way back in February, 2007. And that was a year before the great recession started to be deeply felt.
Here are two of the ten issues for adjudication which the APA ordered three and a half years ago: Issue No. 5: What are the fiscal impacts of the project to the governmental units should any phase or section of the project not be completed as proposed? What is the public vulnerability should the project either fail or not proceed at its projected pace related to on and off site infrastructure? Or on private infrastructure that may be subject to eventual operation by the town? What is the ability to provide to provide municipal or emergency services to any section in light of the road design or elevation?
Issue No. 6 requires the consideration of the burden on and benefits to the public. What are the positive and negative economic impacts of the project (including fiscal impacts) to the governmental units? What are the impacts of the project on the municipal electric system’s ability to meet future demand? To what extent will conservation mitigate demand impacts? What are the assumptions and guarantees that the Big Tupper Ski area can be renovated and retained as a community resource? What are the current and expected market conditions related to available housing for the project workforce? What are the impacts of the project on the local housing market?
Any one of these questions deserves to be the subject of a lengthy report, and hopefully each of them will be deeply plumbed and closely scrutinized by the APA and others during the hearing. Remember that in 2006 – a full two years before the recession hit – Tupper Lake retained a number of independent experts on these subjects to advise the Town about burdens and benefits from the ACR. The developer was to pay for their services. These were good moves on the town’s part. Collectively these consultants were known as The Hudson Group, and each individual in that consulting group had a particular expertise. I am confident the APA and the Town have kept their reports and will enter relevant parts into the hearing record. I do recall reading them in 2006. The consultants poured over the original ACR application which, despite the applicant’s assertions, in my opinion has not substantively changed much over the course of five years. The consultants found, at least preliminarily, serious deficiencies or concerns. Some of the consultant concerns I remember reading about were:
1. the applicant’s analysis of market demand for the resort 2. The applicant’s math when it came to underestimating project cost and overestimating developed property values and sales. 3. the high tax burdens posed by the high level of public services which the resort would impose 4. Payments in lieu of taxes, which could shortchange Tupper Lake taxing districts in favor of bond holders. 5. Reduced state school payments that could result based on the state formula which rewards areas with overall low property valuations (which the high values of resort homes would skew upwards).
There were many other topics and concerns raised by the consultants. The Hudson Group was never allowed to finish their work. As I recall, Michael Foxman didn’t appreciate a lot of what he was reading in the preliminary reports and stopped paying the consultants. While the Town did try to get him to release more funds, that effort was mostly fruitless. The media, as I recall, devoted little coverage to The Hudson Group reports. It was left to concerned citizens and organizations to delve into them.
Given three years of recession, one wonders how The Hudson Group would respond now to the current ACR application. Just 50 or so housing units have been cut from the ACR project since 2006. There are at least twelve additional Great Camps proposed now than were proposed in 2006. Further, in a letter made public this fall, the NYS DEC has raised innumerable concerns about ACR’s incomplete and deficient descriptions and assessments of stormwater and sewage treatment. There still is no certified professional engineering study of how sewage will get to the village plant miles and a causeway away from ACR. It is probable, therefore, that the costs of sewage and stormwater have just gone up dramatically, along with the potential future burdens on the town for operating and fixing this infrastructure as it ages.
With housing and market demand still deeply impacted by the recession, we find the developer of the FrontStreet resort in North Creek – permitted by APA in 2008 – cutting way back on his commitments for upfront infrastructure construction and service payments, original demands wisely made by the Town of Johnsburg which contrasted markedly with the absence of demands made by Tupper Lake on Michael Foxman et.al. According to the current Adirondack Explorer, FrontStreet developers have completed only one building out of the 149 units approved by the APA in spring, 2008.
One of the municipal topics given the least attention when the ACR was sent to hearing in 2007, and one given the most attention in the FrontStreet permit issued by APA a year later, were energy costs and demands, a carbon budget for the development, energy efficiency and energy performance. Here is a very rich area for investigation at the ACR hearing. What is the “carbon footprint” of the proposed ACR? How much carbon dioxide would be released simply from clearing the trees and bulldozing the soils around the building and road/driveway sites, to say nothing of heating, cooling the homes over time? How much carbon dioxide would be absorbed if development were clustered, and forests preserved intact, or harvested and sustainably managed as a source of alternative biofuel to displace use of heating oil? Even if built to LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) standards, how much electrical power would these resort dwellings really draw from the new 46-kV line to Tupper Lake, and thus what are its real impacts on future demand and electric capacity?
I urge the APA and others to give all these questions a hard look with expert testimony at the hearing. I think that was the expectation of Agency commissioners in 2007 and I hope it remains so today.
Photo: From summit of Mt. Morris, looking at chairlift, Tupper Lake marsh, Rt. 30 causeway, Raquette River and in center mid-distance, Cranberry Pond. This was taken on the only field trip offered by the applicant – in spring 2007.
The Lake George Association has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to help protect the English Brook Watershed on Lake George.
One of the eight major streams entering Lake George, English Brook has been of high concern to the Association for over a decade. Land development in the English Brook watershed has increased the volume and velocity of stormwater runoff, leading to increased pollution entering the brook. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) lists the brook as sediment impaired, and its delta is one of the largest on the Lake. According to National Urban Runoff Program reports conducted during the 1980s, English Brook has high levels of total phosphorus, chlorides, total suspended sediments, lead and nitrate-nitrogen. The grant will partially fund the installation of a $48,400 Aqua-Swirl hydrodynamic separator on the east side of Rt. 9N at the Lochlea Estate in the town of Lake George. The system will collect previously untreated stormwater runoff from both the east and west sides of Rt. 9N, as well as the bridge between the two exits at Exit 22 on Interstate 87. The majority of the runoff in the 48-acre watershed will be captured and treated.
Other stormwater solutions requiring a larger footprint were explored but were not possible due to the shallow soil depth and high bedrock found throughout the site. The Aqua-Swirl unit has a small footprint and a suitable location was found near existing stormwater infrastructure.
The project is also taking the opportunity to capture untreated stormwater runoff from the west side of the road. By installing some additional infrastructure, stormwater from both sides of the road will be directed to the new unit.
The cost of the entire project is estimated at $117,000. In addition to the Lake Champlain Basin Program grant, funding for this project has been secured from the Lake George Watershed Coalition and the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation. The village of Lake George will maintain the structure and clean out the system using the LGA’s Catch Vac.
How does an Aqua-Swirl Hydrodynamic Separator work?
Stormwater enters an Aqua-Swirl unit through an inlet pipe, producing a circular flow that makes contaminates settle. A swirl concentrator removes the gross pollutants; a filtration chamber then removes fine sediment and waterborne pollutants. A combination of gravity and hydrodynamic forces encourages solids to drop out of the flow and migrate to the center of the chamber, where velocities will be lower. The Aqua-Swirl also retains water between storms, allowing for settling of inorganic solids when the water is not flowing.
Additional work protecting the English Brook Watershed
Significant work in the English Brook watershed has already been completed by the LGA in conjunction with Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District (WCSWCD). In 2009, design work for a 150-foot-long sediment basin at the mouth of the brook was completed. Permits for this project have been submitted to the appropriate agencies. The basin will be about 6 feet deep with a capacity to trap over 700 cubic yards of material. Further upstream, at the Hubble Reservoir, the LGA hired Galusha Construction to remove a non-functioning sluice gate and valve that were making it difficult to maintain the site. The site was dewatered and almost 600 cubic yards of sediment were removed. The LGA acquired funding for both projects through grants from the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation and the New York State Department of State and the Environmental Protection Fund.
Once this important upland work is completed, the culminating step is to remove the sediment that has built up in the delta over the course of generations. The nutrient-rich sediment in deltas supports invasive plant growth, hampers fish spawning, and harbors nuisance waterfowl. By removing the delta, safe navigation is restored, the health of the Lake’s fisheries improves, the Lake returns to its original bottom, and property values are retained.
Photo: The English Brook delta in Lake George taken by the LGA in November 2010.
The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has released the results of their 10th auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances, held Wednesday, Dec. 1. According to a press release issued by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC): “As with previous auctions, states are reinvesting the proceeds in a variety of strategic energy programs to save consumers money, benefit the environment and build the clean-energy economies of the RGGI states.”
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first government-mandated carbon dioxide control program in the United States. It requires power plant emissions reductions in New York and nine other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States. Over a period of years, the 10 states are hoping to reduce their power plant carbon emissions through a “cap-and-trade” program. There are indications however, that the carbon cap may be too high to have any impact. Additionally, environmentalists hopes to retire significant numbers of carbon credits have also proved limited. » Continue Reading.
Few people combine so much heart, artistry and teachable strategy as Gary Randorf. This influential, heroic Adirondack photographer and conservation advocate is about 73 now, but he will always be a young man at heart, and he’s still keeping in touch with his many Adirondack friends. I feel fortunate to have interacted with him over the years.
Gary has influenced so many people to look not once, not twice but again and again at the Adirondacks, or any landscape that has such arresting wilderness beauty, subtlety, inhabited by people feeling a deep sense of place. Actually, Gary was teaching when you didn’t realize it. Early in my time with the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Gary led a lobbying trip to Albany for the Adirondack Council. He never explicitly taught me how to lobby. He simply took me from office to office, talking as we went. As I recall, Gary was pushing the Legislature to increase funds for land acquisition in the State, and for Park planning at the Adirondack Park Agency.
The Senate Finance committee, chaired By Senator Ron Stafford, was a tough nut to crack. Gary always took the time to sit down with even the most hostile, or seemingly hostile, staff member. On this occasion, a very senior staff member of the Senate Finance Committee started to lecture Gary. Our cause that day was not very important, he said. We were a very small fish swimming in a very large ocean called the NYS budget. Furthermore, people in the Adirondacks were not interested in more land acquisition.
I thought he was brusk and rude to someone of Gary’s stature and experience. Yet, Gary calmly persisted, giving him pertinent information, asking the committee for its consideration, showing him photographs of the areas he was talking about, and hoping the staffer will join Gary in the Adirondacks at his next opportunity to see what was at risk. The staffer ended up smiling at the thought of a field trip. I have never forgotten that effective style.
A few months later, in August 1987, Gary was working for the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for a second stint (he and Clarence Petty worked for the APA in the ‘70s, documenting and field checking the Park’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers). On this occasion, Gary was photo documenting the development of the Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs).
I met Gary at the recently cut-over lands destined to be the footprint of the VIC at Paul Smith’s. Gary was giving suggestions to a crew of Camp Gabriels prisoners on how to build boardwalks through the wetlands below the VIC site. He was also taking lots of photographs. Gary has such an eye for scenery, lighting and mood. Two years later, the VIC opened, with Gary’s photographic talents on display, including his photographic exhibit of the marsh as it changed its appearance over the course of a full year.
I enjoyed other rare, precious days with Gary and friends over the years. He left notes on his door – “make yourself at home” – and he always made you feel exactly that way, as he took us to places he had been many times before, but was seeing with fresh eyes. Along the way, the book he had worked on for so long, The Adirondacks: Wild Island of Hope, was finally published. His inscription of my copy meant a lot to me: “Long-time fighter in the trenches for the Forest Preserve.”
In the book’s foreword, Gary writes: “I will share with you how I enjoy the park and introduce you to its natural history because I believe that you must know and understand a place before you can be talked into saving it.” That is so characteristic of Gary’s teaching method. He continues, “The world is watching. We are and will continue to set an example of how to do it – that is, saving a wilderness that includes people. If we fail, we fail not only our state, our country, and ourselves, but also the world.” Wild Island of Hope is no mere picture book. It seeks to teach how we only understand what we appreciate, and only seek to protect what we understand.
I last saw Gary in 2009 thanks to his friends Dan Plumley and John Davis, who brought Gary to a training seminar designed for college students to apply their academic curriculum to real-world challenges of wilderness preservation in the Park. Dan opened the training and invited Gary to follow.
With disarming frankness, Gary talked about his Parkinson’s disease, and how he believed he was afflicted because of the years of exposure to pesticides as a young man earning a living in western New York. He then reminded the students how close the Park had come to widespread, unregulated aerial spraying to kill black flies in the 1980s, and recounted the difficult but rewarding work to stop this aerial assault.
Several students were amazed that spraying for black flies had been practiced, or even been considered in the protected Adirondack Park, which led to an excellent discussion about gaps in legal protection at the state and federal levels, and how current generations must build on the work of their predecessors. The job is never done. Photos: Gary Randorf speaking to students at a 2009 Adirondack Park Stewardship Training seminar, and in a group photo after the session.
Eurasian milfoil was discovered in Lake George in 1985; since then, approximately $3.6 million dollars have been spent to control the spread of the invasive aquatic plant.
Add to that the value of the time spent administering programs and writing grants, as well the cost of educating the public about the dangers of spreading invasives, and $3.6 million becomes a figure that easily exceeds $7 million.
“We’ve been conducting a milfoil management program since 1995, when the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation turned the program over to us,” said Mike White, the executive director of the Lake George Park Commission. “We’ve employed methods like hand harvesting, suction harvesting and laying benthic barriers over the plants, but we’ve only had enough resources to contain milfoil, and not enough eradicate it.” » Continue Reading.
The Open Space Institute (OSI) has announced the acquisition of Camp Little Notch, a 2,346- acre former Girl Scout camp in the southeastern corner of the Adirondack Park in the Town of Fort Ann. The Open Space Conservancy, OSI’s land acquisition affiliate, purchased the property from the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York (GSNENY) “to ensure its long-term protection, and continued use for wilderness recreation and education” according to the OSI’s Communications Coordinator Jeff Simms.
OSI is partnering with the Friends of Camp Little Notch, a new nonprofit created by former Little Notch campers, counselors and supporters from around the U.S. and abroad that intends to operate the camp as an outdoor education facility, according to Simms. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Council has announced that Allison M. Buckley of Piercefield, St. Lawrence County, has been chosen to replace John Davis as the organization’s Director of Conservation. Davis is due to leave his post at the end of the year.
“We are very pleased to welcome Allison Buckley to the Council’s Program Team,” said Executive Director Brian L. Houseal. “She has a degree in Environmental Science from SUNY Plattsburgh, and a master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. Allison has experience working for a land trust, a watershed watch group, a winter resort and for the Village of Lake Placid. This summer, she filled in for a vacationing staff member at our Albany office and did a great job. She will now be stationed at our headquarters in Essex County.” » Continue Reading.
I just started working for the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), an agency that invests in green technology and environmentally-friendly programs throughout New York.
One of my first jobs (I’m in public relations) was to promote a program that will benefit anybody in the Adirondacks that has an interest in investing in wind, solar or other forms of alternative energy — or just improving the insulation or heating systems in their homes or businesses. NYSERDA recently hired two new educators to spread the word about its energy programs around the North Country. Richard LeClerc of Alexandria Bay and James Juczak of Adams Center were recently hired to represent NYSERDA’s New York Energy $mart Communities Program, an initiative to teach local consumers and business owners about NYSERDA’s energy-saving programs.
They will work out of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County in Watertown, covering 10 counties, including nearly all of the Adirondacks.
Both local coordinators have a long history with environmental, technological, management and community initiatives.
Richard LeClerc has an extensive management background. Now retired from a career as an Army civilian employee, he has also worked in a variety of other federal jobs related to natural resources and environmental management. More recently, he has had roles running several community programs in the area.
James Juczak. a former middle- and high-school technology teacher, lives “off the grid” in a round house he built himself which is heated with a 35-ton, hand-built stove made from sand and recycled concrete.
LeClerc (pronounced “Le-CLAIR”) said there has been a positive response from the public to presentations he’s made about energy programs available through NYSERDA.
“There’s tremendous interest,” he said. “That’s what makes this so exciting. There are very few times where we go and speak that they’re not enthusiastic.”
To contact the community coordinators in Jefferson County, call 315-788-8450. LeClerc is ext. 320 and Juczak is ext. 274. You can also reach them via email: RRL55@cornell.edu or JSJ58@cornell.edu.
The New York State Museum has received a $1 million federal grant to conduct a new research project aimed at protecting endangered species of native freshwater mussels from the impacts of invasive zebra mussels.
With the grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Museum scientists will use what they are calling an “environmentally safe invention – a biopesticide” to continue their research with a new emphasis on open water applications. The project will be led by Museum research scientists Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer. » Continue Reading.
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