Alaska

After a massive 9.2 magnitude earthquake in 1964, Alaska's Copper River Delta experienced a significant land lift. Since then, the ecosystem of the delta has shifted dramatically, making it a hotspot for climate scientists to study the ways species adapt to rapid habitat change – that parallels the ways we must adapt to a changing climate. This chapter of the award-winning Science and Memory project explores the unfolding migration story of the dusky Canada goose.

In the spring, birds flock to Cordova, Alaska for nesting season. the dusky Canada close, a subspecies of the Canada goose, uses the marshy grass-filled Copper River Delta as its sole nesting habitat.

The ecosystem of the Copper River Delta changed abruptly when a 1964 earthquake lifted the wetland, turning it from a saltwater to a freshwater-dominated system. Where at first the dusky Canada goose population spiked post-1964, it has since sharply decreased due to this change in habitat type over time. Shrubs and trees have grown, and skies now have less protection from predators such as bears, wolves, coyotes and bald eagles.

Fewer duskies nesting on the Delta means the implementation of stricter hunting regulations in Oregon and Washington – the duskies’ wintering grounds. According to a U.S. Forest Service report, these restrictions could limit recreational activity and have large economic impacts on agriculture in Oregon due to the population increases of other geese subspecies formerly controlled through hunting. Thus, the dusky Canada goose is considered a species of concern. 

During the summer months, members of the Forest Service wildlife team travel via airboat to remote areas of the Delta to monitor and combat these changes.

Throughout the summer, the Forest Service performs maintenance on artificial nest islands for the Dusky goose. They camp in remote areas of the Copper River Delta, paddling through sloughs during the day to reach each nest island. At night, they relax around the campfire. (Video by Julia Reihs)