The highly-regulated Minnesota wild rice harvest season began Friday, and the Department of Natural Resources is warning harvesters to be cautious with unripe seeds.
In a press release, the DNR says that despite it being in-season, if the rice isn't ripe, it's illegal for harvest. This could be especially prevalent this year, because the late spring may have caused the rice to mature more slowly than normal. Most areas likely aren't ready yet, the DNR says.
The Associated Press reported lower yields should be expected, possibly 75 percent less than last year in some of the areas hardest hit by flooding.
Northland's News Center reports the wild rice season was actually delayed on the Fond du Lac reservation, possibly due to the late ice-out and wet, cool spring. A Fond du Lac program manager said flooding in that area wasn't an issue for the wild rice.
The DNR expects peak harvest times to be early to mid-September, as long as weather remains mild. Bit noted some beds that had rice last year may have none at all this season.
“Some areas had exceptional rice harvests last year,” said David Kanz, Aitkin area assistant wildlife manager. “Early and sustained high water levels this year have hurt some rice beds, so as water levels continue to come down, we’ll have to watch how the rice responds and see if there is enough growing season left for it to recover.”
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.
Harvesting licenses can be purchased online or from a DNR license agent. It's $25 for the season, or $15 for one day if you're a Minnesota resident.
Wild rice plays a significant role in the ecosystem, the DNR says. Migrating waterfowl depend on it as a staple for their diets, and the growing plants provide a habitat for fish and invertebrates. It's also an important food culturally for many of Minnesota's American Indian tribes.
Because of that, the DNR highly regulates wild rice harvesting. Some of the rules:
- Harvest takes place from a non-motorized canoe, 18 feet or less in length, utilizing 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 1 pound each.
- The gathering process is labor-intensive.
- There is no limit to the number of pounds people may harvest with a permit.
- Processing is necessary to finish the rice into its final food product.
- Allowing ample scouting time will lead to greater success. Accessing some lakes can be difficult and some lakes and rivers within tribal boundaries are not open to public harvest. Finding a mentor who is willing to share their skills and knowledge can greatly improve success.
- It is unlawful for any person 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 Native Americans or residents of the reservations listed.