Minnesota DNR offers tips for those new to harvesting
As the Aug. 15 wild rice season opening date approaches, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds harvesters that rice stands must be ripe before they can be legally harvested.
Wild rice harvesters going out during the upcoming season will find generally good conditions throughout much of Minnesota.
“Unusually warm days this spring got plant growth off to a fast start and generally dry weather has meant many rice waters weren’t impacted by rainstorms,” said Ricky Lien, Minnesota DNR wetland habitat team supervisor. “Overall rice stands are looking pretty good, though rice stands on some lakes are better than others.”
As people consider harvesting, they need to know the regulations that help protect wild rice stands for future years. Harvesters are allowed to take ripe wild rice each year during the harvesting season that runs between Aug. 15 and Sept. 30, but Minnesota’s green rice law makes it illegal to harvest unripe or “green” rice, even within the dates of the harvest season. So, although rice beds might look like they are ready, ricers must make sure the grain is ripe and falling easily from the stalk before attempting to harvest it.
Early reports from Minnesota DNR and tribal biologists indicate average to great rice stands across central and northern Minnesota, but conditions are variable for individual waters.
“People interested in harvesting wild rice should do some scouting to look for good stands of rice,” Lien said. “Folks will also want to do some scouting to check access conditions. Right now, most basins have enough water to float a canoe. But if the dry weather pattern continues, lake levels will continue to drop, and come late August, there might not be enough water to get to the rice.”
The Minnesota DNR has posted a wild rice conditions report online. The conditions report is available each year on the Minnesota DNR’s wild rice management webpage, along with license, regulation and safety information. Anyone looking for more information on wild rice in their area can contact their local Minnesota DNR wildlife manager or Shallow Lakes Program specialist.
Since wild rice is ripening at the same time as Minnesota’s early waterfowl hunting seasons, over-water waterfowl hunters are urged to be aware of and cautious about wild ricers no matter where they hunt. A safety mindset and mutual courtesy will allow for successful early waterfowl hunting and wild ricing. Those who plan to hunt the early teal season on the Leech Lake Reservation should be aware of hunting restrictions near posted rice beds. Early-season teal hunters may not hunt within one-half mile of posted wild rice beds open to harvest within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation during the early-teal season. For more information, contact the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Minnesota’s early teal season is Sept. 2-6, and early goose season is Sept. 2-17.
Harvesters usually use a canoe with a push pole or paddles for power, and collect rice using two sticks, or flails, to knock mature seeds into the canoe. While labor intensive, harvesting wild rice can be rewarding, and finding a mentor who knows what they’re doing can make the learning process easier.
As part of the Outdoor Skills and Stewardship series, Minnesota DNR staff produced a webinar about how to harvest wild rice. The webinar recording can be viewed online.
Harvesters should keep access areas clean by packing out what they pack in. To prevent spreading invasive species, ricers should make sure their canoe and gear is clean before arriving at the rice lake. Before heading out, harvesters should plan for how the rice will be processed. Novice rice harvesters are often advised to use a processor rather than attempt to process it themselves.
Wild rice (manoomin/psiŋ) is spiritually, culturally, nutritionally and economically significant to tribal communities. Wild rice plays a key spiritual and cultural role in Ojibwe, Dakota and other tribal traditions. Additionally, a significant portion of the wild rice in Minnesota is located within Ojibwe reservations or treaty ceded territory.
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 within the reservation from which the rice is collected. In addition, all nontribal members wishing to harvest or buy wild rice within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation must have a Leech Lake Reservation permit.
The Minnesota DNR sends out periodic newsletters about rice harvesting topics. People can sign up to receive the email newsletters on the Minnesota DNR home page by finding the “Get email updates” box, entering an email address, and selecting the “Go” button. Then in the subscription list, check the box for “Wild rice harvesting.”