Eighty percent of the world’s Emperor Goose population breeds on a 10-mile-wide strip that runs from Kongiganak, up the coast of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, to Hooper Bay. This year, for the first time in 30 years, federal managers have opened a subsistence hunt for the birds. The geese haven’t migrated to the Delta yet, and the feds are trying to encourage conservative hunting of the vulnerable species before they arrive.
“With the season opening for Emperor Geese for the first time in 30 years. There is a concern of overharvest of Emperor Geese, because they’re ignorant to a lot of hunting activities, because they haven’t been harvested, so they haven’t learned how to avoid hunters," said Bryan Daniels, a waterfowl biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the point is to hunt the birds conservatively so they won't have to close the hunt again.
Here are four suggestions to prevent overharvesting Emperor Geese and keep the population growing:
-Limit how many birds a hunter takes.
-Only take juvenile birds with dark heads as opposed to adult birds with white heads that could be breeding.
-Target one bird at a time instead of spraying the flock.
-And only take one or two eggs from a nest.
That’s the information managers are trying to get out to the coastal villages before the birds land on the Delta. Except Friday, they ran into a problem. Instead of being on a plane to Hooper Bay, Daniels was grounded in his Bethel office by fog. This month he's traveling to six YK Delta communities to ask hunters to take it easy on the Emperor Geese.
“I went to Chevak on Wednesday the 12th. I’m supposed to be going to Hooper Bay today. Chefornak on April 17. Toksook Bay on April 19. Nightmute on April 21, and Newtok on April 28,” said Daniels.
With the fog, he never made it to Hooper Bay. That visit has been rescheduled to Tuesday, April 18.
At the villages, Daniels and a Yup’ik-speaking U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff member will present a PowerPoint in Yup’ik and English to the Tribal Council. Their message:
“Hunt conservatively this year, so we can continue hunting them into the future, and we never have to close it again,” said Daniels.
In the mid-1980s, the Emperor Goose population dropped dangerously low, and since then, hunters have abstained from harvesting them to allow the population to grow.
Now, the population is just above the threshold to sustain a hunt, and managers, like Daniels, are urging a conservative approach during this first season.
Along with being unaccustomed to being hunted, Emperor Geese have behaviors that make them vulnerable to overharvest. Like when one is shot, the family members will circle the fallen bird instead of flying away, making them easy targets.
Also, the birds lay eggs later in life, and don’t lay every year. And the rates for the birds living past their first year is lower than other geese species.
To help managers see how the harvest goes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hiring one person from each of the six coastal communities they’re visiting to collect data.
“There’s no personal information written on the sheet," said Daniels. "Just the village that you’re from, the date, how many Emperor Geese you’ve harvested, and then we try to get the age, whether it’s an adult or juvenile, the [sex] of the goose, and the weight of the goose.”
The position runs about six weeks from now until the beginning of June. The Emperor Geese are expected to arrive on the YK Delta in mid to late May.