Wild rice harvesting season opens annually between Aug. 15 and 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 indicate it’s shaping up to be a challenging season for wild rice harvesting. Severe storms in July hurt many wild rice lakes.
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.
“Many wild rice waters took a hit during the recent July storms,” said Ann Geisen, DNR wildlife lakes specialist. “On some lakes, the crop was largely destroyed because most of the rice was uprooted or overtopped with water. However, on the lakes missed by the storms, the rice is looking pretty good.”
Scouting before harvest is especially important to find lakes with harvestable stands of rice. Additionally, access routes to some lakes may be blocked by downed trees or high water.
Peak harvesting dates are estimated to be in late August to early September as long as weather remains mild. Like other forms of gathering, finding a mentor who is willing to share their skills and knowledge can greatly improve success.
Minnesota’s green rice law does not allow the harvesting of unripe rice. So even though rice beds may look like they are maturing well, ricers are responsible for making sure the grain is ripe before attempting to harvest it.
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/shallowlakes.
The 1854 Treaty Authority website at www.1854treatyauthority.org/wildrice 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 (www.mndnr.gov/invasives/preventspread_watercraft.html).
Harvesting licenses can be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or any DNR license agent.
Funds from the sale of wild rice licenses support DNR management of wild rice, including managing water levels on wild rice lakes, improving or maintaining outlets, and assessing habitat.