DFG: Department of Fish and Game
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DFG: Department of Fish and Game
A story of wildlife's last hope in post-mass extinction Alaska
Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.
–Cree Indian saying
A proud, magnificent Alaskan grizzly, the greatest remaining symbol of the American wilderness, strides hurriedly along an ancient bear trail somewhere in the forests of Interior Alaska. Her three cubs lag not far behind, tired and grumpy as they plod onward attempting to keep up with her. Never set foot upon anymore by the great giants that once treaded this path, the trail they follow is now almost impossible to detect. Nevertheless, somehow this mother intuitively knows where it is, and what it leads to.
This mother has been named “62847GF” by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). She is not the animal scientifically known as Ursus arctos, or commonly know as the “grizzly” or “brown” bear. Such giant predators have long since succumbed to extinction. This mother is of course not really a bear at all, but a grizzly coon (Procyon lotor gigantis), a subspecies that developed from an isolated population of raccoons that migrated to and flourished in Alaska even as other wildlife began to die out. Now, the mighty grizzly coon is the largest predator in post-mass extinction Alaska.
The trek is frustrating and tiring for all four of the grizzly coons as they lumber over miles of rough terrain. This is a region where the rapid melting of permafrost, occurring from rising temperatures, resulted in extensive land subsidence. This bumpy, uneven landscape of Interior Alaska has been dubbed the "lumplands". The taiga forests, as in most areas of Alaska, died and withered away decades before during the darkening days of the 6th mass extinction! The grey skeletons of the forest’s trees are tilted and leaning in every direction, giving the dead forests a "drunken" appearance. In these wasteland wilds there is little to survive upon, save for some arctic ground (red) squirrels and lemmings among the thick choking grass which are difficult prey to catch. A few wide muddy creeks are home to freshwater crabs and crayfish, but those areas are mainly dominated by males, who are fiercely protective of their fishing grounds, and are in no mood to share.
No matter how difficult the voyage, though, the destination they are headed to is worth the tiring journey. 62847GF is taking her cubs to the few remaining settlements on the outskirts of the village of New Dallas. Here they should find sufficient food to keep them alive. Aside from the human waste found here there is little else to survive upon. As for easy food there were people there that always left extravagant banquets laying outside in easily accessible garbage containers, as if just for them. 62847GF had been taken there by her own mother when she was a cub to this wonderful place, and taught how to effortlessly lift open the lids of garbage cans with their hand-like paws and feast on an easy, delicious meal. Here she would go as well to sustain herself well enough to keep her cubs healthy, and teach them to forage for garbage as well as soon as they’re weaned. She pauses momentarily to lift her head and sniff the air, and detects a subtle scent in calm breeze. The slightest hint of sweet garbage aroma reaches her nose. They are getting near. She walks faster.
Her three young cubs straggle behind, churring complaints to stop and rest. She ignores them, and continues on unabated, when she suddenly pauses and stands icily still in midwalk, slowly lifting her head. Her spade-shaped ears forward. She cautiously stands upright and listens harder. Her cubs stop behind her, thinking they’ve finally convinced her and gladly stop to wrestle. She silences them with a sharp hiss and listens more. She shrugged it off, assuming it was probably just another impulse of her overcautious imagination. She turns and pays heed to her cubs, who are now wrestling each other again. The strongest, fastest-growing daughter aggressively nips her submissive smaller brother, who squeals loudly. Meanwhile, the other sister bites her bigger sister’s tail while she’s preoccupied her brother, and the two sisters both turn on each other in a vicious looking, yet harmless romp. 62847GF puts an end to their goofing off by agreeing to stop and rest. She gently lays back against a stump to allow them to anxiously nurse again, and lays her head back, closing her eyes in maternal relaxation. Moments like this should have cleared her mind and made her feel at least slightly comfortable and cheerful of motherhood, but it only left her mind open to fill in with worries and pains. 62847GF wanted to be joyful about watching her beautiful cubs grow up, but she couldn’t, the post-mass extinction world of Alaska had taken its toll on her heart. Her life had too many deep wounds. She had been hunted all her life, and from an early age had openly experienced the horrors of the summer raccoon hunt, when countless men invaded the woods with deadly pulse rifles and hydraulic bows, precisely during the time of the year when all mother grizzlies are bringing their newborn cubs into the world.
When 62847GF was a bouncing young cub herself, she was playing in the woods with her own mother one overcast summer day when they came for them. She was told by her mother to quickly hide in a tree, and watched in horrified silence as her mother was suddenly pelted with arrows like a pincushion right before her eyes. She watched in despair as the men approached her dead mother and gathered around her, peeled off her skin, and left the rest of her exposed muscular corpse behind to rot. Even as an adult, 62847GF was still haunted by the memory of her mother’s lifeless, lidless eyes staring back at her from a bare, bloody skull. But even more painful was the memory of how it felt to be all alone, knowing death was inevitable. She wandered, for weeks by herself, hopelessly searching for food and warmth, for someone to comfort and protect her, but all in vain. 62847GF finally collapsed as an emaciated heap outside a neighborhood. But unlike most cubs orphaned every year like her, she was found in time by caring people, and the chance for a new life came to her. Her life slightly improved afterwards, and she learned then that not all men are foul death-bringers. She was nursed back to health by those people she would never forget and always love, and eventually re-released as a healthy young adult back into the world, renewed with a new strength and spirit of survival. However, as she matured, cruel men returned. Many close friends and companions she had made along the way in life’s journey were lost to them, and she herself had just barely escaped getting sniped on numerous occassions. 62847GF was a strong survivor, she had made it all the way to surviving to produce a second litter of cubs. She often thought about her first litter, one much like this one, only two male cubs and one female cub. She wondered where they could be now. By now they’d be almost old enough to start raising their own litters. 62847GF had not seen any of them since they had matured and left her. Although she wanted to believe they had perhaps migrated a great distance to another area, she knew in her heart that most likely none of them had been as successful as her at escaping hunters every season. Few grizzly coons ever survived to their third year. This tough mother had cheated death, and was almost five years old. 62847GF knew that she was fortunate to have lived this long, and that her luck would eventually run out. This was of no concern to 62847GF, for she felt that her life had been long and successful, but all that mattered in the world to her now was her cubs, and if she didn’t survive until they could be off on their own, they would certainly perish. During these times of the year she knew to be as cautious and protective as possible, almost every unfamiliar sound and smell frightened her and with good reason. She exhales deeply and tries her best to relax, making her cubs fidget, when she suddenly senses something again. And now she knows it is for real. A very low rumble, below a frequency that humans can hear, comes to her ears like rolling thunder, only instead of chaotic, the sound is rhythmic and repetitive. She quickly jumps up lightning fast, before her kits were even comfortably settled down, and shrieked in panicked alarm for all three of her cubs to flee up a tree. The rumbling soon grows nearer, and then on the horizon she sees it: a huge flying object, coming straight towards them. Terrified, the mother runs away from her three kits now hiding high up in a dead, diagonally-leaning white spruce. The incessantly roaring, flying object now veers its course straight towards her. She is terrified, but glad they are at least following her and not her cubs. Running terror from this huge, cumbersome monster, she tries to play a trick on the flying beast, quickly changing direction and ducking under thick brush to hide her from view. However, before she even makes it, a fog issued from under the creature’s belly and quickly shot like a bolt towards her, enveloping her in a mist that made her head spin and her brain tingle painfully. She stood on her hind legs one last time to desperately try and see better through the fog and then lost consciousness, dizzily falling over on her side. As the fog slowly dissipated, the massive flying beast, an ADFG field cruiser, hovered and landed nearby in a small clearing among the dead trees. The side doors slid open, and a small team of 4 game wardens slipped out and walked towards the unconscious grizzly. All bore the mandatory warden uniforms. They included traditional tan shirts with badges and patches of ranking, ADFG logo caps, and of course a pair of large, elusively reflective sunglasses over their eyes. Their belts were full of fieldwork devices and each carried pulse rifles on holsters over their shoulders. Almost as regular as their uniforms was the expression on all of their faces, cold and stern. Except for one of them.
One of them was a middle aged, sallow-faced man with short, spiked grey hair. His name was Roger Rytzaljak, a high-ranking field agent, also an inner member of the department’s Board of Game. The two other men were Bobby Trevalswek and Derin Davisson. But then there was a fourth one, one that stood out from them. This warden was a young, tall and lanky blonde woman. Her name was Jennifer Feldis, a new recruit only 5 months on the force. She stood out in more ways than one from the rest of them.
Roger cautiously approached the female grizzly first. "Hurry, apply the after-tranq before she starts convulsing" he said. Jennifer nervously pulled a tranquilizer gun out of its belt holster on her side, stooped down next to the giant-sized raccoon and pressed it into the animal’s shoulder.
"Good work, Jennifer.", Roger complimented.
The four of them stood back and admired the animal.
"Wow, look at the size of that proin! She must be 3 ˝ feet long." Bobby said, pulling out an infared ruler and measured her for the more precise length of 3 feet 7/14 inches. The other man spread out a special plastic tarp on the ground. Roger and Jennifer unraveled protective gloves from their sleeves and both picked up and layed the grizzly down on it. A reading on the corner of the tarp showed that the mother grizzly weighed in at 97.4 pounds. She was a huge grizzly coon indeed. The tarp also detected 6 types of minor external parasites and slightly unhealthy skin due to several mineral and nutritional deficiencies.
"Do we have this one already down in our files?", Derin asked.
"Yeah, this is PLA-SC-62847GF. She’s one of the largest Her archaic tracking chip’s still working, but her immune system destroyed the mn’s we injected her with last time. It’s time for a booster." Roger said, holding up a strange looking device similar to Jennifer’s tranquil gun and pressing it to the mother raccoon’s side near her heart, injecting her with hundreds of nanites used to monitor her bodily systems and life processes. They gave her several more mostly harmless injections, for rabies, mange and distemper resistance, and parasite eradication. Several other supplements were administered that contained minerals and nutrients that she lacked according to the nanite readings. While he administered the injections, Jennifer was stooped down next to the grizzly across from him, sympathetically stroking the grizzly’s ears and neck fur. When Roger noticed this, he suddenly pushed her hand away, and eyed her warningly.
"Don’t do that." he said in a dangerous tone. "We can’t let you get soft for any of these beasts. You must remember why we’re out here. We’re here to conduct a sustainable harvest level survey and ONLY for that. We've got to make sure their turnover rate is high enough to sustain a population that will meet hunters' demands this year. As professional game wardens we can’t have compassion for any individual, you must remember that the individual does not matter, it is the whole of the population that we must manage and conserve."
"Yeah. Sorry to seem rude there, Jen, I know this is all strange for you since you’re new on our force, but it’s not a good idea to interact with or get emotional with any particular grizzly too well. Especially one that’s likely not going to make it another season." Bobby elaborated.
"Allright, allright, I’m sorry, I… I wasn’t petting him anyway, I was, er... just checking for external parasites on her ears and neck" Jennifer said defensively.
"Her new cubs for the season are somewhere nearby, the readings showed three of them. They’re somewhere in that direction. We need to find them, we haven’t logged them in yet", Roger said, pointing to the Northeast. Derrin and Bobby went searching for them in that direction.
A few seconds later, Bobby yelled back that they spotted them. It was impossible for any creature to hide itself among the dead trees of the drunken forests. Roger walked over to them and saw the three helpless cubs crying and wailing fearfully at the top of the diagonally leaning tree. Roger loaded tranquilizer rails into his pulse rifle and set it to low power before aiming up at them and firing. One single unaimed shot precisely delivered a tranquilizer dart into all three cubs without harming them. Jennifer and the two men, with the tarp held between them, caught two of the cubs when they almost immediately plummeted drowsily from the high top of the tree, but the strongest female cub put up a struggle, dopily trying to climb higher up the tree, until drowsily falling 45 feet to the ground into the thick grass, missing the tarp.
Jennifer screamed in alarm and began to panic, but the rest of the men assured her that the cub probably suffered little bodily harm. Roger carefully picked the cub up and scanned over her unconcious body with a handheld ultrasonic device and found no broken or fractured bones or internal organ damage.
"Wow. That is one tough cub. Did you see the way she put up that fight after you tranquiled her?" said Bobby in amazement.
"She gave good sport, didn’t she" Derin said icily.
"Yeah, what a pugnacious proin. I can tell she wouldn’t go down easily. She’s gonna give one lucky hunter quite a thrilling chase one day." Bobby said lustfully.
"Yup. This one’s already turning out to be just like her mother. PLA-SC-62847GF is one of the best wild stocks we have logged in. I can’t believe how long she’s survived. This is her second litter, by the way" Roger informed them.
"Really? How was her first litter?", Bobby asked.
"Oh, from what I heard from the hunter that harvested two of them, her first litter were magnificent sporting game. They’ve already been fully harvested, all three of them, and I saw two of the males after they were mounted. They were top-quality trophies.", said Roger happily.
“Nice.”, remarked Derin sharply.
Jennifer looked the other way to hide the expression of disgust that she could not prevent showing on her face.
At that, they logged and numbered the cubs, who went through the same routine procedure of weighing, measuring, and drugging as their mother, and were carefully laid down at her side to let them wake together up in several minutes’ time. Jennifer and the rest repacked their equipment, Her lazy, dazed eyes stared at them blankly from out of her large black mask of a face, and her tongue flopped reflexively in her slouched mouth. They stood back to watch them one last time. Suddenly, the mother grizzly quickly sat upright, startling the men so much that Bobby and Derril nearly fell over backwards. The grizzly eyed them with startled, aggressive eyes, but was still too uncoordinated and dazed to get back on her feet and charge them.
"Come on, leave her alone now, get back in the cruiser, quick, before she gets too dangerous.", Roger said alarmingly, and they jogged back to the cruiser, with only Jennifer looking back one last time.
They stepped back into the cruiser and took off. Below them, the endless landscape of the lumplands was spread before them in all its grandeur desolation. Where thick, healthy taiga once stood, now an endless landscape of towering skeletons rotted in ruins. Long killed off by waves of infestation and disease decades before, the trunks and stumps of the drunken forests were tilted, leaning and fallen in every direction. Between the dead trees the lumpy ground was choked by a thick, grey-green carpet of invasive weedgrass gone awry that no poison contrived by man could kill anymore. …And even this was overgrazed in most areas. About 20 miles further traveling southeast back to their headquarters,
A familiar structure came into view ahead of them on the ground. They were approaching game feed station 16A-BT. Below them, in a huge flat area of man-made clearing, was one of the primary areas where Alaska’s remaining wildlife resources were sustained. A complex consisting of several large industrial metal structures stood. Amassed around this complex of cylindrical tanks was a dense congregation of nearly 5,000 Sitka deer, gorging themselves at rows and rows of circular feeding troughs arranged around the cylindrical structures, which were giant feed tanks that kept the troughs filled. The deer were obviously hungry. There was not enough naturally growing grass to graze on (or rodents to prey upon) to feed most of their burgeoning numbers, numbers that hunters demanded and the ADFG expected, so their survival was mollified at several complexes like this one located all around the refuge. There were also many devices at this complex that made sure that every deer got the proper amount of feed and nutrition. Numerous robots roved among this miserable horde, shocking and prodding the deer feeding at the troughs to move on once they’ve had a share; to allow the next deer waiting in line to feed access. Many bucks among the mass were nearly driven to madness with nervousness at the unnatural over-crowdedness of the environment, and often panicked in aggressive flails and kicks, doing whatever they could to gain personal space, which was nonexistent while they were packed in flank to flank with the rest of the writhing masses. But order was always soon restored; the panic-stricken bucks were soon shocked with prods and subdued with tranquilizers into submission by the tranquility bots that had to clear their way through the crowd to get to them. Does and fawns were isolated from the bucks by the shep-bots to use troughs in a different section of the complex, and where the the does fed, a team of very specialized robots patrolled, the arti-sem bots. When the arti-sem bots detected a doe in estrus season at the feeding troughs, clamps sprang up and restrained them by the neck, and the arti-sem bots rolled up to them from behind and did unspeakable things to conceive within them a new generation of future trophies.
These horrified, screaming does, who no longer had any desire to mate or give birth naturally, were forced against their will to bring more young fawns into the world, to raise a child not planned or wanted, born and destined to live a short, unnatural life. A life just like theirs, a life of gorging, prodding, drugging, tranquilizations, checkups by robots, and death at an early age by pulse rifle or hydraulic bow.
"Isn’t agri-conservation wonderful? Why does the IGEC hate it so much?" said Roger admirably, staring down at the massive herd below. "Only 15 years ago sitka deer and nearly every other large game animal in this state was dwindling on the edge of extinction. Now look... The herds are larger than they’ve ever been in history. ...Larger than they've been in history! I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would be able to bring about such a successful comeback in the post-mass extinction age. It just shows what true conservationists and sportsmen can do when we put our minds to it. The harvest will be tremendously bountiful this fall. Hunter success rates should be at 150% or better. I can’t wait to take my own crack at them this year with my new hydraulic bow." said Roger, staring down at the herd lustfully.
Jennifer’s face showed an expression of deep skepticism.
"You do know that blacktail deer used to have antlers, don’t you?" she reminded Roger.
"Of course I know that! A lot of them still do... You just can’t see them from here." Roger said with tenability.
"I don’t mean just those sharp, narrow spikes that some of them have, Roger; I’m saying that one time all the bucks had branching, multiple-pointed antlers that looked like magnificent crowns."
"I told you already, we’re trying as hard as we can to bring back that kind.", Roger remarked irritably, "We have a few in isolated breeding stocks right now, but it’s hard to get anything through the damn IGEC department of wildlife genetics. But aside from that, the herd is very healthy this year, and I’d say sustainable harvest levels could be anywhere from 2,500,000-3,000,000 trophies. Oh, and the moose herds are also quite healthy. Those disastrous population crash cycles that used to occur on a yearly basis are a thing of the past. Embryonic absorption is down to minimal levels since we added improved fertility hormones to their game feed, and the new updated arti-sem bots are--"
"--Moose used to have antlers too." Jennifer interrupted.
"I KNOW!" Roger snapped. What did I just tell you about the blacktail? We’re working on it! If it wasn’t for that stupid IGEC full of those subjective bioethicist yuppies, we could all right now be bringing home 75-point mega-racks just like what you used to hear the hunter legends of the 40’s gloat about.", Roger complained. Jennifer remained silent. She thought about reminding Roger of the fact that the legendary "mega-racks" of the 2040s were actually severe antler malformations due to a velvet infection from mange epidemics that swept through the genetically weak herds of the time. However, she decided not to irritate Roger, Bobby and Derrin any more than she already had that day, and let that one go. Jennifer’s thoughts went back to that grizzly coon. She felt terribly sorry for it, and said a small prayer on its behalf for its safety and survival.
And somewhere miles behind them, a grizzly coon mother was just regaining her full consciousness. Her cubs were also waking up around her, and as they did began to stumble around drunkily, crying in terror from the trauma of the experience. She hissed for them to stay close, and they walked clumsily back towards her. She held them close and comforted them the best she could, but she too was terrified. She knew that there was no hope of escaping man forever, those men already had them captured, and could have easily killed them all. Why didn’t they?, she wondered. This was the third time in her life that she had been captured by such men, but not harmed. However, She knew that her luck would eventually run out, and the next time men came they likely wouldn’t be so merciful again to her or her cubs. She shook with despair at this thought. However, along with this great oppressive feeling of fear and hopelessness came another. Something was different about this particular traumatic experience. She didn’t understand by any means why or how, but a sudden feeling of hope came over her. It issued forth from a mysterious well of empathic resonance deeper and more ancient and complex than subjective thought, reasoning or even instinct. During her tranquilized state, she had subconsciously felt a hand caressing her, a reassuring touch of compassion, and in it was a clear meaning: someone felt love and sympathy for her, another being that transcended to her across the species barrier with altruism and kinship. This being had been there by her side during her unconscious helplessness.
…and somehow she suddenly knew that someone out there deeply loved and cared about her, someone out there with the power to watch over her and even protect her and her children from harm. In this 628-47GF found solace, and a warm feeling of hope suddenly filled her. …Perhaps there was some small chance, some glimmer of hope that someday in the desolate wasteland she called home, she and her cubs would no longer have to live in fear of torment and death under man‘s cruelty. She calmed and quieted her cubs back down, and they found their way back onto the unused bear trail and all set off once again across the vast uneven terrain of the lump lands to satisfy that most powerful emotion in all grizzlies--hunger.
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