Good News for Gatherers
While the blueberry picking this year has been mediocre at best there is good news for those who wish to harvest wild rice in Minnesota.
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Aug. 10, 2015
Ripe wild rice harvesting allowed in late August
Harvest of ripe wild rice is allowed between Saturday, Aug. 15, and Tuesday, Sept. 30. Harvesters must first make sure the rice is ripe before launching their canoes because it is illegal to harvest “green” or unripe rice, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Wildlife managers say it’s shaping up to be a good season for wild rice harvesting. The dry spring provided favorable water levels and rice beds have been growing well in most areas.
“Rice growth appears to be a little ahead of last year,” said Ann Geisen, DNR wildlife lakes specialist. “Peak harvesting dates are estimated to be in late August to early September as long as weather remains mild.”
Minnesota’s green rice law does not allow the harvesting of unripe rice. So even though rice beds are maturing well, ricers are responsible for making sure the grain is ripe before attempting to harvest it.
More than 1,200 lakes and rivers in 54 counties contain wild rice, with concentrations of rice being the highest in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca and St. Louis counties.
Throughout traditional wild rice growing areas, the majority of rice beds are in good condition.
Recent storms uprooted rice plants in some lakes, but overall, most of the state’s rice basins were untouched by the bad weather. Like other forms of gathering, allowing ample scouting time or finding a mentor who is willing to share their skills and knowledge can greatly improve success.
Wild rice is the edible seed of an aquatic grass and is the only cereal grain native to North America. When properly processed and stored, it can be stored for extended periods.
In addition to being a traditional food source for Minnesota’s early inhabitants and an important part of American Indian culture, wild rice is an important food staple for migrating waterfowl each fall. The growing plants also provide important habitat for fish and invertebrates.
Because of the grain’s importance, harvesting wild rice is regulated in Minnesota. Harvesters are reminded:
Harvest takes place from a nonmotorized canoe, 18 feet or less in length, using only a push pole or paddles for power.
Rice is collected by using two sticks, or flails, to knock mature seeds into the canoe. Flails can be no longer than 30 inches, and must weigh less than one pound each.
Harvesting licenses cost $25 per season, or $15 per day, per person for Minnesota residents.
There is no limit to the number of pounds for harvest with a permit.
Additional processing is necessary to finish the rice into its final food product.
The gathering process is labor-intensive, and accessing some lakes can be difficult.
More information about wild rice management is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/wildlife/shallowlakes/wildrice.html. The 1854 Treaty Authority website provides updates from ground and aerial surveys on some lakes within the 1854 ceded territory in northeastern Minnesota. The aerial surveys are tentatively scheduled for mid- to late August; the results will be posted soon after.
Those interested in harvesting wild rice are reminded that it is unlawful to take wild rice grain from any of the waters within the original boundaries at the White Earth, Leech Lake, Nett Lake, Vermilion Lake, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs reservations except for American Indians or residents of the reservations listed.
In addition, all nontribal members wishing to harvest or buy wild rice within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation must have Leech Lake Reservation permits. For wild rice harvesting regulations, see www.mndnr.gov/regulations/wildrice.
Aquatic invasive species are a serious threat to Minnesota waters. Like any other water users, rice harvesters must follow cleaning protocols to avoid spreading invasive plants and animals.
Harvesting licenses can be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or any DNR license agent.