On a blustery gray fall day, a flock of geese sets down in a protected cove on the west side of Kodiak Island. These are emperor geese. The emperor goose is an Alaska bird - virtually the entire world population is found only in Alaska.
Some geese migrate thousands of miles between their summer nesting areas and their winter refuges. The dusky Canada goose nests on Alaska's Copper River Delta and winters in Oregon's Willamette Valley. But most emperor geese winter and summer in Alaska. While a small number do nest across the Bering sea in the Russian far east, ninety percent of the geese breed on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Most of the remaining ten percent nest on the Seward Peninsula. In the fall these emperor geese move south a few hundred miles and winter in the Aleutian islands and along the Alaska Peninsula to the coast of Kodiak Island.
Since 1981, biologists have flown annual spring surveys in to estimate goose numbers. In the 1980s, the population declined from more than 100,000 birds in 1982 to fewer than 45,000 in 1986. Hunting was closed, and over the following decades numbers gradually increased. The most recent count was almost 86,000 birds and in 2017, and after a 30-year closure, a limited hunt was reinstated, allowing an Alaska hunter to take just one Emperor goose during the fall hunting season. With careful management, Alaska's unique population of emperor geese will continue to grow.