Wild rice season opens soon, but harvesters must ensure rice is ripe

Rice
Staff Report

St. Paul, Minn. — As the Aug. 15 wild rice season opening date approaches, the Minnesota DNR is reminding harvesters that rice stands must also be ripe before they may be legally harvested.

Wild rice harvesters going out during the upcoming season will find variable conditions this year in many areas of Minnesota.

“While we’ve heard reports of good rice in some places this year, a cooler early spring meant many lakes had late ice-out and the wild rice growing season was pushed back up to two weeks,” said Ricky Lien, DNR wetland habitat team supervisor. “Consequently, wild rice may ripen later than normal. Ricers need to remember that it is illegal to harvest green rice.”

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 wild rice 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 may 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 DNR and tribal biologists on the condition of this year’s wild rice have been mixed across central and northern Minnesota.

“People interested in harvesting wild rice should do some scouting to look for good stands of rice,” Lien said. “Although we’re hearing of some places with good wild rice this year, other areas were hit by multiple heavy storms that had negative impacts.”

Ahead of the wild rice season in mid-August, the DNR will post a wild rice conditions report online. To be notified by email when the conditions report is available, sign up for wild rice email updates.

The conditions report is available each year on the DNR’s wild rice management page, along with license, regulation and safety information. For other details that may not be in the conditions report, anyone looking for more information on wild rice in their area can contact their local DNR wildlife manager or a Shallow Lakes Program specialist.

Harvesting tips

Harvesters usually use a nonmotorized 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.

Harvesters should keep access areas clean by packing out what they pack in. And before heading out, harvesters should make a plan for how the rice will be processed. Novice rice harvesters are often advised to use a processor rather than attempt to process themselves.

The DNR notes that 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 reservation upon which said wild rice grain is taken.

The exceptions to this are Native Americans and 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 a Leech Lake Reservation permit.

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