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With scant evidence that market-based conservation works, argues Douglas J. McCauley, the time is ripe for returning to the protection of nature for nature's sake.
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Selling out on nature
With scant evidence that market-based conservation works, argues Douglas J. McCauley, the time is ripe
for returning to the protection of nature for nature’s sake.
Probably the most important trend in con-
servation science at the moment is ‘ecosystem
services’, typically seen as economic benefits
provided by natural ecosystems
. They form
the basis of most market-oriented mechanisms
for conservation. The underlying assumption
is that if scientists can identify ecosystem serv-
ices, quantify their economic value, and ulti-
mately bring conservation more in synchrony
with market ideologies2, then the decision-
makers will recognize the folly of environmen-
tal destruction and work to safeguard nature.
But market-based mechanisms for con-
servation are not a panacea for our current
conservation ills. If we mean to make signifi-
cant and long-lasting gains in conservation,
we must strongly assert the primacy of ethics
and aesthetics in conservation. We must act
quickly to redirect much of the effort now
being devoted to the commodification of
nature back towards instilling a love for nature
in more people.
Gold rush
The proponents of market-based mechanisms
for conservation bolster their argument by
repeatedly citing one example: the Catskill/
Delaware Watershed. Through this project,
New York City invested in conserving a water-
shed that filters its water as effectively as a
filtration plant, and more cheaply.
A growing number of ecologists, economists
and environmental scientists hold this shining
example aloft and proclaim that where there
is one golden nugget, there must be others.
They describe, mostly in hypothetical terms,
a world of win-win scenarios. It is a message
with broad appeal: for the public, which is
notoriously averse to bad news; for business-
oriented politicians, who see an opportunity to
further liberalize markets while appeasing the
environmentally anxious; for philanthropists
who wish to do good without straying too far
from their economic comfort zones; and for
foundations that want to use the familiar capi-
talist rhetoric of ecosystem services to draw
out new or wary donors.
It is both true and obvious that ‘ecosystems,
in some sense of the word, are necessary for
human survival. It is also true that there will
be cases in which it will be lucrative to protect
nature, and that people will derive benefits
from this conservation effort. However, eco-
system services are rapidly assuming an impor-
tance in discussions on conservation that is far
out of proportion to their actual utility.
As conservation tools, ecosystem services
are limited in four fundamental ways. First, the
logic of ecosystem-service-based conser vation
rests on the implicit assumption that the bio-
sphere is benevolent — that it provides us with
useful services and protects us from malevolent
abiotic forces such as hurricanes, floods and
rising temperatures. This reasoning ignores
basic ecology: environments don’t act for the
benefit of any single species. There are myriad
examples of what might be labelled ‘ecosystem
disservices’. Trees take water out of watersheds3;
forests may be contributing to global tempera-
ture increases4; wild animals kill people and
destroy property5; and wetlands can increase
the risk of disease6. Market-based conservation
strategies, as currently articulated, offer little
guidance on how we are to protect the chunks
of nature that conflict with our interests or
preserve the perhaps far more numerous pieces
of nature that neither help nor harm us.
Markets in flux
Second, although most conservationists would
argue that nature should be conserved in per-
petuity, the strength and direction of market
forces that are now being called upon to moti-
vate nature conservation are anything but
perpetual. The often illusory and ephemeral
relationship of the market to conservation is
well illustrated by the case of a former coffee
plantation, Finca Santa Fe, in the Valle del
General of Costa Rica
. A recent study found
that native bees from two forest fragments
The incentive to conserve the Catskill watershed could be lost if technology replaces natural filtration.
Profit-oriented conservation strategies may fail
to protect animals that conflict with our interests.
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adjacent to Finca Santa Fe yielded approxi-
mately US$60,000 a year in pollination serv-
ices to the coffee plants. This was hailed as an
example of how conservation can yield ‘double
benefits’ for biodiversity and agriculture.
Shortly after the conclusion of the study,
however, Finca Santa Fe, probably affected by
one of the worst dips in coffee prices this cen-
tury, cleared its coffee and planted pineapple
instead. Pollinators are irrelevant to pineapple
production. So simple logic suggests that over
a period of several years, the monetary value
of the pollinators in forest fragments around
Finca Santa Fe dropped from $60,000 per year
to zero.
To make ecosystem services the foundation
of our conservation strategies is to imply —
intentionally or otherwise — that nature is only
worth conserving when it is, or can be made,
profitable. The risk in advocating this position
is that we might be taken at our word. Then, if
there is a ‘devaluation’ of nature, as in the case of
Finca Santa Fe, what are we to tell local stewards
who have invested in our ideology, and how can
we protect nature from liquidation?
Watershed down
Third, conservation based on ecosystem serv-
ices commits the folly of betting against human
ingenuity. The entire history of technology and
human ‘progress’ is one of producing artificial
substitutes for what we once obtained from
nature, or domesticating once-natural services.
One of the primary selling points for protecting
the Catskill/Delaware Watershed was that the
costs associated with constructing and operat-
ing a filtration plant
would have driven up
water prices in New
York City. However,
recent reports8 indi-
cate that increased
turbidity might ulti-
mately force New
York to turn to technology to filter its water,
in essence negating this much-ballyhooed eco-
nomic incentive for conservation.
Several other major US cities still rely on
natural filtration, and in some of these cases
it is difficult to imagine that technology will
soon produce a cheaper artificial alternative
to these natural watersheds. Yet it would also
once have been difficult to imagine cost-effec-
tive manufactured alternatives to rubber and
timber. Although we will never replicate all of
the ‘services’ offered by nature, I would argue
that conservation plans that underestimate the
technological prowess of humans are bound to
have short lifespans.
Lastly, although it has been suggested that
in most cases the services that come from
nature are valuable enough to make conser-
vation profitable, making money and protect-
ing nature are all too often mutually exclusive
goals. Take the case of Africa’s Lake Victoria,
where the introduction of the invasive Nile
perch (Lates niloticus) contributed significantly
to the decimation of local biodiversity while
dramatically boosting the economic value of
the lake. Local people profiting from trade
in the fish hail its introduction as a success,
whereas biologists have condemned the event
as “the most catastrophic extinction episode of
recent history”
. John Terborgh
, discussing
similar issues in tropical-forest conservation,
remarked that these forests are “worth more
de ad t han al ive”. If Te r-
borgh’s assessment is
not always true, it is
true all too often. So
we must directly con-
front the reality that
conservation may be
expensive and stop
deceiving ourselves and partners in conser-
vation with hopes that win-win solutions can
always be found.
Infinite value
Are there other socially viable paths for con-
servationists besides the commodification of
nature? Yes. Nature has an intrinsic value that
makes it priceless, and this is reason enough
to protect it. The idea is not new. We v iew
certain historical artefacts and pieces of art as
priceless. Nature embodies the same kind of
values we cherish in these man-made media.
Some ecologists claim that these intrinsic
values, often referred to as cultural services,
figure prominently enough in their valua-
tion programmes. However, this co-option
seems in many cases incongruous. I suggest
that the aggregate value of a chunk of nature
— its aesthetic beauty, cultural importance and
evolutionary significance — is infinite, and
thus defies incorporation into any ecosystem
service programme that aims to save nature
by approximating its monetary value.
All of this is not to deny a role for ecosystem
services in our general efforts to protect nature.
Individual ecosystem services will occasion-
ally prove to be useful bargaining chips in
specific conservation plans and, as such, can
meaningfully support programmes aimed at
protecting nature for nature’s sake. However,
to avoid trading in significant long-term con-
servation successes for marginal short-term
gains, philosophical clarity is essential and
caution is needed. When we employ the aid of
ecosystem services to help pay the bills of con-
servation, we must make it abundantly clear
that our overall mission is to protect nature,
not to make it turn a profit.
Some will argue t hat thi s view is s imply too
optimistic. They may believe that the best way
to meaningfully engage policy-makers driven
by the financial bottom line is to translate the
intrinsic worth of nature into the language of
economics. But this is patently untrue — akin
to saying that civil-rights advocates would have
been more effective if they provided economic
justifications for racial integration. Nature con-
servation must be framed as a moral issue and
argued as such to policy-makers, who are just
as accustomed to making decisions based on
morality as on finances.
The track record of achievements by conser-
vationists motivated by a moral imperative to
protect nature for nature’s sake is impressive:
consider the international ban on commercial
whaling, the national parks of the United States,
and the CITES ivory-trade ban. Meanwhile, the
only ‘successful’ large-scale ecosystem-service-
based conservation project yet achieved is the
imperilled Catskill watershed. But this ‘nugget’
may turn out to be fool’s gold.
We wi ll make m ore pr ogres s in the lon g ru n
by appealing to people’s hearts rather than to
their wallets. If we oversell the message that
ecosystems are important because they pro-
vide services, we will have effectively sold out
on nature.
Douglas J. McCauley is in the Department of
Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford,
California 94305, USA.
1. Daily, G. C. Nature’s Services (Island Press, Washington,
DC, 1997).
2. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and
Human Well-Being: A Framework for the Assessment (Island
Press, Washington, DC, 2003).
3. Hayward, B. From the Mountain to the Tap: How Land Use
and Water Management Can Work for the Rural Poor (NR
International, UK, 2005); available at
4. Gibbard, S., Caldeira, K., Bala, G., Phillips, T. J. &
Wickett, M. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L23705 (2005).
Woodroffe, R., Thirgood, S. & Rabinowitz, A. (eds)
People and Wildlife, Conflict or Co-existence? (Cambridge
Univ. Press, New York, 2005).
6. Willott, E. Restor. Ecol. 12, 147–153 (2004).
7. Ricketts, T. H., Daily, G. C., Ehrlich, P. R. & Michener, C. D.
Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 12579–12582 (2004).
8. DePalma, A. New York Times New York’s water supply may
need filtering (20 July 2006).
9. Wilson, E. O. The Diversity of Life (Belknap Press of Harvard
Univ. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992).
10. Terborgh, J. Requiem for Nature (Island Press, Washington
DC, 1999).
Locals around Africa’s Lake Victoria benefit from
trading in the ecologically detrimental Nile perch.
“We will make more progress
in the long run by appealing to
people’s hearts rather than to
their wallets.
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... Lent, 2017;J. R. Lent, 2021;McCauley, 2006McCauley, , 2006Rea & Munns, 2017). ...
... Lent, 2017;J. R. Lent, 2021;McCauley, 2006McCauley, , 2006Rea & Munns, 2017). ...
... Doch solange finanzialisierte Ökonomien aus systemischen Gründen -da Finanzmärkte durch strukturelle Blasenentwicklung, Instabilität und Wachstumserwartungen charakterisiert sind -mittels Wachstum auf Basis von Ausbeutung der Natur soziale Spannungsverhältnisse ausgleichen, stellt Kommodifizierung und Monetarisierung der Natur aus Sicht von Gesellschaft-Natur-und Bereitstellungsperspektive keine dauerhafte Lösung dar (Bracking, 2020;Hache, 2019b;Kemp-Benedict & Kartha, 2019;Maechler & Graz, 2020;McCauley, 2006;Sullivan, 2013). (niedrige Übereinstimmung, starke Literaturbasis) Von einigen Stimmen (Hache, 2019b;Sullivan, 2018) wird diesbezüglich Kritik an der Messbarmachung der Natur geäußert -wie in United Nations et al. (2021) methodisch vorgeschlagen und in Dasgupta (2021) theoretisch untermauert -, da damit die Menge an dem Markt zugänglichen Kapital erhöht wird und somit durch diesen Monetarisierungsprozess auch den Wirtschaftlichkeitsinteressen des Finanzkapitals zugänglich gemacht wird. ...
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Zusammenfassung Dieses Kapitel bewertet anhand eines breiten Überblicks an Literatur aus Marktperspektive, Innovationsperspektive, Bereitstellungsperspektive und Gesellschaftsperspektive, inwiefern Anreizstrukturen des Geld- und Finanzsystems die Transformation zu einer klimafreundlichen und nachhaltigen Lebensweise in Österreich begünstigen oder behindern. Zudem trifft es eine literaturbasierte Einschätzung darüber, in welche größeren wirtschaftlichen und gesellschaftlichen Strukturen das Geld- und Finanzsystem in Österreich eingebettet ist. Bereits eingeleitete und potenzielle zukünftige Reformen des Finanzsystems und Änderungen des bestehenden Geldsystems werden dahingehend überprüft, inwiefern sie Kapitalströme mobilisieren können, die für die Finanzierung der Strukturen für eine klimafreundliche Lebensweise notwendig sein werden.
... Assigning monetary value to the services provided by nature is not an innovative idea. McCauley (2006) argued that the term 'service' is a utilitarian approach towards nature, because only the goods and products that are considered valuable for human beings, and not for the landscape or ecosystems, are considered. However, owing to the fact that humans and other species all belong to the biosphere, Costanza et al. (2017) emphasised that ES should not only focus on human beings alone, but also consider other species in the world. ...
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In the captivating pages of "Mountain Ecosystems & Resources Management", readers embark on an insightful journey through the intricate world of mountain ecosystems and the essential strategies for responsible resource management. This book serves as an enlightening guide for understanding the unique dynamics of these awe-inspiring landscapes and the challenges they face in an ever-changing world. Through a harmonious blend of scientific exploration and practical approaches, this research-based literary expedition unveils the delicate balance between human development and the preservation of these remarkable ecosystems. Spanning 24 chapters, the book first delves into the enchanting beauty and biodiversity of mountain ecosystems. This section not only highlights the intrinsic value of these ecosystems but also sheds light on their vulnerability to climate change and human activities. Moving forward, the book meticulously dissects resource management strategies that hold the key to sustaining the delicate equilibrium of mountain environments, through capturing the topics of Mountain Agrobiodiversity, Mountain Forests, Mountain Watersheds, River Basin Management, Ecotourism, Animal Genetic Diversity, Mountain Identity, Environmental Psychology and Mountain Policies. Thus, whether it is water resources crucial for downstream communities, sustainable tourism that respects local cultures, or responsible land use planning, the book offers a wealth of insights to empower policymakers, environmentalists, and local communities alike. Overall, the narrative transcends from theory to action as the book presents inspiring case studies of successful resource management initiatives from around the globe. These stories of collaboration, innovation, and resilience demonstrate that a harmonious coexistence between humans and mountain ecosystems is not only attainable but also imperative for a sustainable future. "Mountain Ecosystems & Resources Management" serves as a beacon of knowledge, guiding readers toward a deeper appreciation of these majestic landscapes and inspiring them to become stewards of their preservation. As we stand at a crossroads of environmental consciousness, this book paves the way for informed decisions that will safeguard these natural treasures for generations to come.
... Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Assessment and Valuations (BESAV) have been the object of many efforts from the scientific and practitioners' communities to develop new tools and practices around the world (Bagstad et al., 2013;WBCSD, 2013;Berghöfer et al., 2016;Waage & Kester, 2015), but still suffers criticism for their utilitarian view of nature and for the shortcomings of the evaluation methods, which have been mostly economic (McCauley, 2006;Sagoff, 2008;Turnhout et al., 2013). Acknowledging these critics, the proposed ecosystem services assessment is complemented by a territorial analysis, a socio-economic disaggregated approach and by the assessment of socio-environmental changes at a local level. ...
Technical Report
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... That is, monetary payments could erode intrinsic motivations for conservation (Luck et al., 2012;Rode et al., 2015) and result in changes in mind-sets, affecting motivations for environmental protection (Vatn, 2000). It is argued that this could induce changing the conservation logic "from moral obligation or community norms towards conservation for profit" (Rode et al., 2015, p. 273), undermining ethical and moral arguments for conservation (McCauley, 2006). Furthermore, ecosystem services framing is seen as a risk for marginalizing nonanthropocentric (often non-Western/utilitarian) frameworks for nature conservation (Muradian and Gomez-Baggethun 2021). ...
... Or, what is the best possible return for a given investment? Furthermore, despite the general interest in the conservation of ecosystem goods and services (for a debate see McCauley 2006;Reid et al. 2006), conservation policy still uses species as the most common unit of conservation value (e.g. Caughley and Gunn 1996), and there is evidence that species have, by and large, responded to past climate changes individualistically (e.g. ...
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Habitat loss and deterioration, climate change, and economic pressures for resource extraction have all led to a global loss of biodiversity. The limited resources available for conservation need to be used both effectively and efficiently in order to minimise further losses. Spatial conservation prioritization addresses the question of how we should allocate conservation effort and funds in space and time. While the benefits of quantitative conservation prioritization methods have been widely promoted, adoption of these methods in "real-world" planning and implementation is still in its infancy, partly due to the difficulty of identifying which methods and tools (if any) are suited to specific planning problems. Spatial Conservation Prioritization brings together a team of leading scientists to introduce the conceptual and methodological aspects of how to undertake spatial conservation planning in a quantitative manner. It provides the reader with information on when, why, and how to use which statistical and computational methods for conservation prioritization. Important topics underlying spatial prioritization including metapopulation modelling, population viability analysis modelling, species distribution modelling, and uncertainty analysis are discussed, as well as operational definitions and methods. The book includes chapters on the most widely used and latest software, and concludes with an insight into the future of the field.
... Attributing monetary value to cultural services has proven to be especially tricky and leads to their undervaluation (Daniel et al. 2012). Other critics point to the misconception that ecosystem processes only provide benefits (McCauley 2006). Despite criticisms, the concept has been valuable for communicating nature's values and implementing management policies. ...
The ecosystem services concept represents the benefits provided by nature to people. This concept has been increasingly applied through the past two decades, given its potential to raise awareness about the importance of the natural ecosystem to society and foster more holistic management strategies. Coastal ecosystems are under intense pressure due to the historical human occupation of coastal areas and associated activities, as well as external processes affecting the coastal zone. Sandy beaches are especially vulnerable since they are the marine ecosystem most used by human societies and also one of the less studied. Sandy beaches’ processes and biodiversity provide numerous services that benefit human populations. In this chapter, we present an overview of ecosystem services provided by sandy beaches worldwide and review examples of studies on the Brazilian coast. Studies on the ecosystem services provided by Brazilian shores are increasing at a slower pace than international studies. These studies comprise the identification and valuation of ecosystem services and are evenly distributed along the Brazilian coast. Also, many are sectoral studies (i.e., focus on a specific service and not on the whole range of services a beach can provide) and still unpublished literature. On the verge of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, more and broader studies are necessary to understand the full importance of sandy beaches and how their conservation will impact global sustainability.
There is an urgent need to globally advance human wellbeing and ecosystem restoration is required to achieve international targets. However, the relationship between ecosystem services and wellbeing is frequently assumed to be simple and positive, but this is not the case. This paper argues that a poor understanding of how and when ecosystem restoration can improve wellbeing causes a disconnect between the practice and the benefits it promises to provide. Problematic issues with carbon credits are discussed and a case is made against promoting ecosystem restoration initiatives based on carbon storage. Opportunities for ecosystem restoration to optimize gains in wellbeing are proposed, including the identification of sites where restoration has the greatest impact and the transition from carbon credit systems into ecosystem service credit systems. Future research directions are recommended, as are the production of international standards for ecosystem restoration in natural hazard recovery and risk mitigation.
The natural historical language of life forms has hardly ever been central to, and is only becoming more and more irrelevant, to the outcomes of conservation practices. Consequently, conservation practices are not primarily concerned with what living things are, or have and do to flourish, which only the grammar of natural goodness can determine.
Ecosystem services provided by green spaces are closely related to human health, strongly supporting sustainable urban and territorial development. Urbanization has not only resulted in the reduction of green spaces but has also created inequalities in exposure. Inequitable green exposure creates disparities in residents' access to the ecosystem services provided by green spaces and can lead to significant health inequities. In this context, we first categorized green exposures into active and passive types based on their characteristics. Second, utilizing the benefit transfer method and Gini coefficient, we estimated the value and equity of ecosystem services offered by these green exposures around residences at the municipality level in Japan from 2000 to 2020, with a focus on human health implications. Finally, we explored the potential relationship between socioeconomics and ecosystem service inequity. Our findings reveal that: 1) ecosystem service value per capita and equity provided by green exposure are significantly different across municipalities; 2) although most municipalities show an upward trend in per capita ecosystem service value around residences, ecosystem service inequity increases significantly; and 3) ecosystem service inequity is related to the socioeconomic factors of municipalities and could be non-linear. The results of this study suggest that the government should adopt indicators related to the ecosystem services provided by green exposure during urban planning. While focusing on per-capita ecosystem services, they should also consider the equitable distribution of ecosystem services to promote sustainable urban health development.
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1] When changing from grass and croplands to forest, there are two competing effects of land cover change on climate: an albedo effect which leads to warming and an evapotranspiration effect which tends to produce cooling. It is not clear which effect would dominate. We have performed simulations of global land cover change using the NCAR CAM3 atmospheric general circulation model coupled to a slab ocean model. We find that global replacement of current vegetation by trees would lead to a global mean warming of 1.3°C, nearly 60% of the warming produced under a doubled CO 2 concentration, while replacement by grasslands would result in a cooling of 0.4°C. It has been previously shown that boreal forestation can lead to warming; our simulations indicate that mid-latitude forestation also could lead to warming. These results suggest that more research is necessary before forest carbon storage should be deployed as a mitigation strategy for global warming.
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Can economic forces be harnessed for biodiversity conservation? The answer hinges on characterizing the value of nature, a tricky business from biophysical, socioeconomic, and ethical perspectives. Although the societal benefits of native ecosystems are clearly immense, they remain largely unquantified for all but a few services. Here, we estimate the value of tropical forest in supplying pollination services to agriculture. We focus on coffee because it is one of the world's most valuable export commodities and is grown in many of the world's most biodiverse regions. Using pollination experiments along replicated distance gradients, we found that forest-based pollinators increased coffee yields by 20% within ≈1 km of forest. Pollination also improved coffee quality near forest by reducing the frequency of “peaberries” (i.e., small misshapen seeds) by 27%. During 2000–2003, pollination services from two forest fragments (46 and 111 hectares) translated into ≈$60,000 (U.S.) per year for one Costa Rican farm. This value is commensurate with expected revenues from competing land uses and far exceeds current conservation incentive payments. Conservation investments in human-dominated landscapes can therefore yield double benefits: for biodiversity and agriculture. • bees • ecosystem service • landscape • pollination
Cambridge Core - Ecology and Conservation - People and Wildlife, Conflict or Co-existence? - edited by Rosie Woodroffe
The benefits of wetlands are now widely appreciated. Less widely known is that historically many wetlands were drained to help control malaria and other deadly diseases. This essay's general theme is that there are pros and cons to restoration or creation of wetlands. The specific theme is that mosquitoes pose practical and theoretical problems. In particular, abundant mosquitoes should not be regarded as an after-the-fact surprising side effect but rather, abundant mosquitoes should be viewed as a primary and foreseeable effect of providing habitat suitable for them. Yet our funding mechanisms and educational institutions often fail properly to address the reality that restoring or creating wetlands has a downside.
New York Times New York's water supply may need filtering
  • A Depalma
DePalma, A. New York Times New York's water supply may need filtering (20 July 2006).
  • E Willott
  • Restor
Willott, E. Restor. Ecol. 12, 147-153 (2004).
  • G C Daily
Daily, G. C. Nature's Services (Island Press, Washington, DC, 1997).
From the Mountain to the Tap: How Land Use and Water Management Can Work for the Rural Poor (NR International
  • B Hayward
Hayward, B. From the Mountain to the Tap: How Land Use and Water Management Can Work for the Rural Poor (NR International, UK, 2005); available at assets/Water_book.pdf.
  • T H Ricketts
  • G C Daily
  • P R Ehrlich
  • C D Michener
Ricketts, T. H., Daily, G. C., Ehrlich, P. R. & Michener, C. D. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 12579-12582 (2004).