Winter Olympic Action
Guard Fox Watch: 2006 Turin, Italy (October 2003)

Bioregional Impacts, Ecological Implications, and Recommendations for Olympic Winter Games

By Guard Fox Watch, October 2003 



Guard Fox Watch (GFW) is an international NGO association of groups and individuals concerned with the bioregional impacts and ecological implications of the Winter Olympic Games. It currently has active member groups in Italy, Japan and the United States, and communicates with a worldwide network of ecologically oriented organizations. Since 1996, GFW has visited, monitored, assessed, made recommendations about, and reported on the 1998 Nagano, 2002 Salt Lake City Games and 2006 Turin.

The Bioregional Context

A bioregion is defined by the unique combination of natural characteristics within a specific area such as climate, landforms, watersheds, soils, native plants and animals, and aspects of human culture that adapt harmoniously to those features.

An assessment of bioregional impacts caused by the Winter Olympic Games views the general area where they occur to be a living whole. From a bioregional perspective, humans share the place in partnership with native ecosystems and other natural phenomena. It is a primary responsibility of human activity – including the Winter Games – to harmonize with these natural characteristics.

The Bioregional Approach

There is an urgent need to restore and maintain living systems in bioregions where the Games are held because they have been seriously damaged during the contemporary era. The Winter Olympics should contribute to improving conditions by exhibiting sustainability in every possible way and not add to further destruction. In addition, the Games should help insure the future of bioregions by leaving behind significant ecological methodologies and tools for achieving local self-reliance and sustainability.

The scope of understanding environmental impacts should reflect bioregional considerations along with factors of human activities, venue areas, and necessities of event production. In order to be ecologically responsible in presenting Winter Games, the list of environmental goals that a host adopts and the technical means to reach them need to be based on the sustainability of natural ecosystems as well as human inhabitation. The geographic area of concern must extend beyond the confines of the venues themselves to encompass the entire area that will be affected.

Recommendations for Bioregional Implementation of Olympic Games Environmental Guides and Safeguards

Territory and Landscape

There is continuous direct damage to natural systems from development of Olympics facilities and infrastructure, and there are increasing indirect effects from human population loads.

  • Need for Bioregional Monitoring and Measurement
    In recognition of anticipated damage from the Winter Olympics, natural and urban landscapes must be evaluated ahead of time with an eye to restoring distinctive elements of the territory. The nature and extent of the impacts can be determined only through monitoring of basic ecological conditions, both in the vicinity of the sports venues and throughout the entire region. Principal conditions that require measurement include air quality, water availability and pollution, garbage, sewage, native plant and animal populations, natural habitat and ecosystems, energy production and use, soil removal and disruption, as well as less pervasive environmental factors. It is essential that a genuinely thorough, region-wide system for measuring these be in place no later than two years before the event so that changes in conditions may be determined and corrective actions undertaken as soon as possible beforehand and while the Games are in progress. Regular monitoring of the same factors should also be undertaken for at least two years after the Winter Olympics.
  • Guidelines for Development and Increased Human Loads
    By two years before the event a unified set of enforced guidelines should be in place for all aspects of development, construction, and ongoing operations that impact natural conditions either directly or through increasing human loads because of the Olympics. Buildings, service facilities, venues, road systems, parking lots, and other public structures (either already in place, under construction, or planned for use during the Games) need to be undertaken without interference to waterways, ecosystems of native plant and animal species, wild habitat, soils, or other natural elements.

The loads on public services infrastructures for water, energy, transportation, solid wastes, sewage, and other necessities need to be monitored for the same two year period. To eliminate additional burdens up to and during the Games that would damage natural conditions, modifications need to be made before the event. These changes should be conceived in such a way that they create maximum future benefits for the whole bioregional community.

  • Ecological Mandate for Restoration
    Requalification of the natural landscape should be accomplished through a bioregional approach. Restoration of damaged native plant and animal species, ecosystems, habitats, waterways, soil, geological features, and landscapes needs to be undertaken with the goal of ultimately fostering conditions of wildness. Dammed or diverted water courses should be returned to a natural state, and disturbed soils and land forms need to be rebuilt in their original forms wherever possible. Only local native plants should be used for revegetation, and it is imperative to develop a program to restore native animals.
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Creating bioregional energy self-reliance is a foundational element of sustainability. There are two main directions that need to be followed for accomplishing this. The most obvious is to refit all possible forms of consuming energy for conservation. This applies to factories and processing plants, office and residence buildings, transportation vehicles, heating and cooling facilities, appliances, and any other uses. Refitting extends through a wide range of modifications from reconstructing structural features of buildings such as installing heat absorbing walls, to adding devices for household appliances that reduce the amount of electricity used.

The greatest change is to convert energy sources from non-renewable fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewable sources including solar, falling water, wind, biomass, and others that occur within the bioregion.

The occasion of the Winter Games should be the opportunity for carrying out these changes in major ways. This can be done by initiating both energy conservation and use of renewable forms of energy to the fullest extent possible at the athletes’ facilities and sports venues, as well as in power facilities, transportation, hotels, restaurants, and any other public aspects of staging the Games. People who attend Olympic events should be informed about the alternative energy techniques that are employed so that they can learn how to use them to achieve sustainability when they return home. Improvements should be undertaken with a view toward permanence so that facilities can continue to be used for renewable energy conservation and production in the bioregion after the Games have ended.

The 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan brought more than five times the normal number of people to the city. It is reasonable to assume an additional population load of five hundred percent at the Winter Games sites, and that the increase will out-strip gas supplies. To avoid such shortages new renewable sources for energy uses currently met by gas should be developed. Unquestionably, overall demand for electricity will also be elevated, and to accommodate it some new heating plants and additional power lines are planned. Unfortunately, these do not emphasize significant large-scale conservation measures or decentralized means for renewable energy production. In addition, some of the new power lines will be buried underground for cosmetic environmental value. Trenching to install them and subsequent repair would create ecological costs involved with disturbing habitat, ecosystems, plant and animal populations, soil, and geological conditions for a planned distance of eighteen kilometers. Regardless of these planned measures, there is a high probability that demand for electricity will be even higher than expected with the influx of people similar to Nagano, Japan. All of the problems cited above can be significantly reduced or eliminated by development of new, decentralized sources of renewable energy to produce electricity.

In order to contain energy consumption and to maximize the use of renewables there should be a fully comprehensive plan for energy reduction/donation on a decentralized basis for all aspects of energy supply and use. There should be strong encouragement and support for as many ways of producing and conserving energy as possible, both large-scale and small-scale. According to local natural standards mini-hydro-electric systems of temporary small dams and sluices can be created and solar panels and wind turbines could be installed in government buildings, schools, factories, businesses, households, and other public places. Individual refitting of homes, vehicles, and other types of private energy consumption could be implemented through programs involving all citizens. Ingenious techniques (such as Olympic athletes providing electric power while using exercise equipment) can be explored and developed
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There are two ways to deal with the garbage problem that are truly sustainable: (a) eliminating the production of wastes, and (b) recycling of discarded materials. Eliminating wastes can be accomplished in a surprising number of ways. Industrial refuse originates mainly from aspects of production which can be carried out in ways that don’t produce wastes. Ashes from burning coal can be eliminated by using waste-free renewable energy. There should be restrictions on the amount of packaging for materials that industries consume to produce goods. Production processes can be streamlined to avoid creating trimmings and other rubbish. Restaurants and hotels can follow similar policies for the large volume of energy, food and cleaning materials they consume. Household garbage contains a high percentage of packaging from food and consumer goods that can be largely eliminated simply through reusing bags, containers, and bottles, and by restricting goods which come in non-reusable containers such as metal cans. Organic kitchen wastes can be eliminated as a component of garbage by composting them at home to make useful garden soil.

Recycling is the most significant activity for reducing the amount of refuse that otherwise ends up in dumps, landscapes, bodies of water, or toxic smoke. To be sustainable, the goal should always be to eventually achieve Zero Waste through One Hundred Percent Recycling. Every source of waste needs to be completely reviewed. Power production and other utility facilities, factories, construction projects, government buildings, office complexes, hospitals, schools, small businesses, households, and all other sources need to be included. All forms of wastes have to be evaluated for the most efficient types of recycling or reuse. These activities should be coordinated from the perspective of using recycled materials for various purposes throughout the whole bioregion.

The types of materials handled through recycling consist mainly of paper, metals, glass, plastic, wood, demolition rubble, chemicals, reusable parts, and organic materials. They are all capable of producing income to pay for carrying out recycling programs and other public purposes. Materials can generate money, either sorted and sold directly, or after being processed into a surprisingly large number of value-added products such as building materials, compost for farming, recycled paper items, metalwork, park furniture, public sculpture, jewelry, decorations, and more. Recycling reduces public and private expenditures by making materials and products available more cheaply, and saves the cost of energy by closing the distances between places where resources are obtained and where they are consumed.

Olympic Games increase waste production. The increases in human numbers of at least five times above normal that can reasonably be expected will certainly overload existing facilities. Starting with construction sites, wastes steadily mount in type and quantity until reaching a peak during the event that will severely strain and overburden existing means for treating them. Unmatched amounts of garbage will accumulate from every service facility associated with accommodating the large numbers of attendees, including not only hotels, restaurants, and event sites at full occupancy, but also grocery stores, garages, bars, department stores, shops, hair salons, and other retail businesses. Public waste collection for everything from businesses and households to sidewalk trash receptacles and hospital discards will reach record levels. Littering of landscapes will be at an all-time high. In addition, there will be significantly greater amounts of waste from high-end consumer goods bought by Olympics attendees that generally feature more packaging.
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The way in which water is viewed and dealt with is at the heart of the bioregional approach to sustainability. It reveals the difference between using methods aimed at restoring and maintaining water supplies to sustain life, and the conventional Industrial Era practice of exhausting and polluting water resources. Emphasis must be placed on watersheds when planning for sustainable human and natural communities, and so, too, with the Games. Not only the immediate vicinity but the entire impacted watershed should be taken into consideration. The ways that human beings interact with local sources of water and supplies extend far beyond just tapping it for collection so that it can be piped away for various uses. All of the points of contact need to be considered because they will be highly impacted by the Winter Games.

Winter snow is a primary source of water runoff. When snow covering on the ground melts away in summer it carries into nearby bodies of water pollutants which have accumulated. This pertains to all of the outdoor places where activities take place. Exhaust and other fossil fuel contaminants on roadways and parking lots, garbage on pedestrian grounds of sports venues, and discards on sidewalks and landscapes all contribute pollution. All outdoor recreational uses made of snow by Olympic athletes and vacationers will have pollutive repercussions for water in underground reservoirs of springs and wells, as well as ponds, lakes, creeks, and rivers. The number of dangerous potential contaminants that people and vehicles can deposit on snow either intentionally or by accident is extensive. In addition, direct pollution by effluents and rubbish discarded into ponds, lakes, creeks, and rivers will increase from heavier use through exposure to a greater population.

Reuse of water is a key factor in achieving sustainability. Water that has been used once in a light way such as for washing bodies, clothes or dishes can be used again for heavier uses including flushing toilets, hosing down buildings, and watering parks and gardens. One quarter to one third of all water consumption can be reduced in this way. The mechanism required to reuse water is simple. Dual piping systems (one for pure water and one for used water), small pumps, and water filters are all that is required.

It is important that the measures undertaken in preparing for the Winter Olympics make a positive contribution. First, sources for water should be greatly improved by increasing and diversifying the number of water catchment systems on roofs of buildings and other places that can be replenished by rain and melted snow. Water collection and storage devices can be readily bought or constructed. Users of large amounts of water such as factories, hotels, restaurants, and sports venues are especially important, but office buildings, shops and homes can also be made more water self-reliant with rain and snow catchment systems. Increasing the number of private wells will also help relieve the burden on the present systems. 

Second, there needs to be a thorough review and enforcement of water conservation measures. These would extend over the widest possible range to prevent water waste by industry, businesses, offices and private homes. Participation of athletes’ facilities and sports venues is absolutely necessary. Water conservation is highly effective in significantly reducing consumption.

Third, converting plumbing systems to use water twice needs to become more widespread to solve the looming problem of insufficient water supplies. Taking this step in Olympics athletes’ facilities and sports venues is imperative. Water reuse should also be featured in every sports venue, restaurant and hotel that hosts attendees at the Games. A review of all the other places where water reuse facilities can be installed should be made as well.

Carrying out the measures described above should be more than sufficient to meet the challenge to water supplies brought by the Olympics, including making artificial snow. No new dams or basins to store water need to be built. Constructing more water containment facilities of the present type will cause greater diversion of natural water courses and ecological disruption. It is likely to increase the chances for future problems because it provides a false justification for unsustainable development of buildings, houses, highways, and roads: that there is enough capacity.

Pollution of water supplies will be reduced if source points for chemicals, sewage, waste water, road runoff, and other types of dangerous materials are identified and eliminated. This requires a thorough enforced program of compliance with means to reduce water use and properly dispose of waste water.
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Cable Lift Facilities

Construction and use of cable lift systems reduce foot and vehicle traffic up and down steep slopes, but this partial benefit is achieved at the cost of significant impacts on habitats, ecosystems, and animal populations where they operate. The manner in which lift facilities are constructed and used is an important example of how a bioregional perspective can maintain and restore natural features.

There needs to be a thorough natural environment inventory in a wide area around lift destination and stanchion sites before construction begins. This is the only way to obtain an accurate guide for restoring the affected areas. Any new construction of lift stanchions and destination points should be designed as only temporary features which will be removed at the conclusion of the Games. They must not interfere with the continuity of natural elements which include landforms, watercourses, soil, ecosystems, and populations of native plants and animals. To accomplish this, as little space as possible should be used for construction, no landscaping should be employed, and ground covering such as asphalt or cement avoided. Transportation to and from these sites should be reserved for public transportation; other vehicles can be totally prohibited. Use of parking facilities needs to be restricted to public transport vehicles. Parking lots should be left unpaved with border ditches to direct snowmelt runoff to monitoring and filtering devices.  Pedestrian access can be limited to narrow pathways. These measures should also be employed in the redesign of already existing lift facilities.

During operation of lifts, noises that disturb wildlife should be reduced to a minimum through extensive quieting of machinery and cushioning of contact points between cables and conveyances. Passengers should be advised about the need for quiet. Night operations need to be drastically reduced or eliminated entirely. If this cannot be done, night use should be kept to the strictest minimum. Exterior lights could be completely eliminated, and lights for interior spaces such as cable cars or destination structures reduced to a minimum and kept away from windows.

Lift facilities should be removed shortly after the conclusion of the Olympic Games. All roads and paths need to be removed and complete revegetation of the sites and surrounding areas should be undertaken using the original natural environment inventory as a guide. Replanting should use only native species found in the specific locale. Provisions also need to be made for attracting wildlife back onto the entire hill or mountainside where a venue was located. Monitoring the success of restoration efforts needs to continue over three-month periods for several years.
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Olympic and Media Villages

The Olympic Villages and Media Villages present an opportunity for demonstrating ways that people can carry out some basic activities of daily life in ways that are sustainable and harmonize with the bioregion. The practical and instructional value that these heavily used and highly visible sites can offer as model sustainable communities shouldn’t be wasted. Ecological measures that are incorporated in Olympic and Media Villages should be left behind to help create a more sustainable future.

Buildings should be constructed using locally available and recycled materials. Their designs can include many built-in structural features to conserve energy and collect rain or snowmelt water. The Villages can be planned to demonstrate self-reliance by generating their own supplies of electrical and heat energy from local alternative sources. Every application of energy can exhibit ways to reduce consumption. Each site can have systems for recycling all forms of waste that are produced. Food can be organically grown and supplied by small-scale, local farmers. Dual water systems could make it possible to reuse wash and shower water for other purposes such as cleaning buildings and equipment or watering the grounds. Sewage needs to be biologically treated using compost toilets and other means. Transportation to and from the Villages should be restricted to electrically- powered public transportation vehicles, bicycling and walking.*

The establishment of Olympic and Media Villages that foster sustainability in these ways can become a permanent aspect of the Olympic Games. Their future use by the communities where Games take place will be a testament to the primacy of ecological values.

*(For further possibilities see  “The Bioregional Approach for Making Sustainable Cities”
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Roads and Transport

There are three ways that transportation can be modified and improved to benefit bioregional sustainability. First, eliminate the need for new roads and undertake ecological snow removal including decontamination of water runoff from roads and parking areas. Second, restrict motor transportation to public conveyances such as vans and buses, and only use vehicles that employ renewable energy. Third, eliminate the need for motor-driven conveyances whenever possible.

Existing roads should be sufficient to handle even a five- fold increase in the number of people if the conveyances used are solely buses and vans with scheduled arrival and departure times, and private vehicles are prohibited from access to sports venues. (New roads should be discouraged because of the massive upheavals they cause to natural systems and socio-economic stability.) The Games will require a greater amount of highway snow removal and thereby increase runoff that is already a source of water pollution in the local watershed and throughout the bioregion. (In Nagano, Japan the amount of highway snow-clearing chemicals used was five times higher than normal and caused still-lingering damage to nearby rice fields.) Chemicals used to melt snow remain in dangerously high concentrations when they flow through roadside channels to soils, underground aquifers, small streams and surrounding fields, rivers, and eventually the Adriatic Sea. Non-chemical, ecologically benign solutions for removing snow and ice should be found and employed. This will not only reduce ecological impacts of the Games but provide an important educational benefit for outdoor events in the future. Roadside channels should be equipped with chemical monitoring and filtration devices. In addition, road clearing should be undertaken only when necessary, and not mandated to occur twenty-four hours a day in every kind of weather as during the Nagano Olympics.

It will be possible to restrict Olympics transportation to only public conveyances using renewable energy if arrangements for this transformation are undertaken early. Decisions about the types of energy employed, the design and number of vehicles, and production arrangements will require all of the advance time possible. There are generous incentives that can be offered for doing this including subsidization from local and federal governments, reducing costs through local manufacture, elimination of fossil fuel and most maintenance costs, and use by the community for a decade after the Games are over. It is a completely desirable and feasible plan. Need for motor-powered conveyances of any kind can be greatly reduced through planning sports events at venues closest to Olympic and Media Villages. Weather and road conditions permitting, free “white bikes” can be made available to use in getting from public transportation points to sites and for other uses. Private bicycles can be encouraged by creating more one-way streets, designating more bicycle lanes, offering bicycle valet and secure parking services, and discounts at events for bicycle riders and walkers. Three-wheel “truck” bikes can be used to carry materials and products to event sites. Use of bicycles and walking need to become a permanent highlight of the Games as they combine both environmental and athletic aims.
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Guard Fox Watch (GFW) is an international NGO to monitor and make recommendations about bioregional impacts of the Winter Olympic Games. Since 1996 it has developed reports, recommendations and accounts about the 1998 Nagano and 2002 Salt Lake City Games. GFW visited Turin, Italy in February 2003 for similar purposes regarding the 2006 Winter Games.

Environmental disruptions in mountainous and hilly Winter Olympic-type terrain have a greater effect than in flatter areas (where Summer Olympic Games are usually held) because life-supports are not as strong. Thin soils make ecosystems less resilient, sloping land and fast water create floods and wash away nutrients, and pollutants are often more concentrated where they are able to accumulate.

Territory and Landscape
  • Immediate preparations for complete environmental monitoring of air quality, water availability and pollution, garbage, sewage, native plant and animal populations, natural habitat and ecosystems, energy production and use, soil removal and disruption, and other relevant factors. Measurements of baseline conditions during the same seasonal period of the Games need to be taken starting no later than two years prior to the event in order to obtain effective results. They should be taken regularly during this time period and for several years after the Winter Games.
  • Establish guidelines for development and increased human loads. All aspects of development, construction, and ongoing operations associated with the Games need to be undertaken without interference to landforms, waterways, ecosystems, habitats, soils, or other natural elements. Preparations need to be made to measure levels of use for water, energy, garbage, sewage, transportation, food supplies, and other necessities. Development guidelines and human load measurements need to be in place two years ahead. Modifications to reduce and eliminate impacts should be made continually through the year of the Games.
  • Ecological restoration after the Games should embody bioregional values. Damage to native species, ecosystems, habitats, waterways, soil, and landscapes should be restored to model conditions of wildness. Watercourses, soils and landforms must be returned to their natural state, and only local native species should be used in rebuilding ecosystems.
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  • Develop energy self-reliance through conservation and creation of renewable sources. Ordinary energy supplies are highly inadequate for probable five hundred percent increase in human loads during Olympics, and extending existing non-sustainable systems is environmentally destructive.
  • A comprehensive plan for energy reduction through conservation and donation from already existing users.
  • Total renewable energy production and use at Olympics facilities and sports venues at the time of the Games. Government conservation and renewable energy development programs for all users should be started two years ahead to be fully operational in time.
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  • Sustainable refuse programs to reduce and eliminate the production of garbage and recycle all discarded materials. A Zero Waste Policy should be pursued at all Olympic facilities and venues, and businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and shops with increased human loads owing to the Games. Policies for these aspects of Olympics activity should be in place two years before the Games. Municipal plans need to follow a program for reduction and recycling throughout the bioregion by the start of the Games.
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  • Watersheds should be the basic planning units for creating sustainability within human and natural communities affected by the Olympics.
  • Water catchment systems to collect rain and snowmelt should be immediately installed at places such as Village facilities, sports venues, hotels, and restaurants that will experience heavy water use because of the Olympics. Where possible, all water users ranging from factories to homes, can be included.
  • Water conservation needs to be thorough and enforced. This is especially urgent for Olympic Villages and sports venues, but all water users need to be included through civic programs.
  • Reuse of water through dual plumbing systems, one for pure water and one for lightly used water, should be installed in Olympic Villages and sports venues. Hotels and restaurants should also be required to have reuse systems, and all water users can be scheduled for programs to transform their plumbing systems by the start of the event.
  • No new dams or basins to store water need to be built if the above measures are carried out.
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Cable Lift Facilities
  • Complete natural environment inventories in a wide area around destination and stanchion construction sites are necessary in order to properly restore landforms, watercourses, soil, ecosystems, and native plant and animal populations.
  • Minimum space, no landscaping, and no paving should be followed in constructing lift facilities.
  • Noise and night lighting completely eliminated or kept to strictest minimum.
  • Transportation to lifts restricted to public conveyances and pedestrians.
  • Lift facilities removed after Olympics.
  • Plant and animal restoration using only local native species.
  • Monitoring of success for three-month periods over several years.
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Olympic and Media Villages
  • Require model sustainable community guidelines for constructing and operating Villages. Recycled and locally available materials use in construction. Structural elements featuring built-in water catchment and heating/cooling capabilities. Self-reliant heat and electricity generating facilities and conservation devices. Full-scale recycling. Water re-use. Locally produced organic food. Biological sewage treatment. Transportation restricted to renewable energy powered public transportation, bicycles, and walking.
  • Public information about all aspects of sustainability to take advantage of this unique educational opportunity. Leave complete facilities for future community demonstration and use.
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Roads and Transport
  • Restrict Olympic-related transportation during Games to public conveyances using renewable energy, bicycles and walking.
  • Ecological snow removal and handling of road water runoff during the Games. Use only environmentally benign snow removal devices and chemicals. Remove snow only when necessary and don’t mandate twenty- four hour removal in all types of weather. Channel road and parking area water runoff through monitoring and decontamination filters.
  • Eliminate the need for new roads through automobile-free planning. Place locations of facilities and events close together. Convert streets to one-way traffic with bicycle lanes. Weather and road conditions permitting, offer bicycle security services and give bicycle riders and walkers discounts at events. Make free “white bikes” available and encourage use of three-wheel “truck bikes” for carrying loads and passengers.
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Prepared by Guard Fox Watch Monitoring Committee

Peter Berg
Director, Planet Drum Foundation (USA)
Field researcher, coordinator and principal author

David Criley (USA)
Information researcher and contributor

Judy Goldhaft
Planet Drum Foundation (USA)
Field researcher and consultant

Mark Hebard
Planet Drum Foundation (USA)
Consultant and contributor

Giuseppe Moretti
Founder, Rete Bioregionale Italiana (Italy)
Field researcher, translator and contributor

Kimiharu To
Founder, Deep Ecology Resource Center (Japan)
Field researcher, reviewer and contributor


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