Wild rice abundance across northern Wisconsin will vary for the 2016 ricing season — reports from the field note that the rice crop is “well below average” to “poor” throughout much of the state, while a handful of lakes hold quality crops.
“Harvesting wild rice continues to gain attention as a great way to gather your own food while enjoying some of the best areas of the state,” said Jason Fleener, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wetland habitat specialist. Noting the rice conditions this year, Fleener added, “gathering wild rice this year will require early scouting and patience.”
Fleener also encourages those interested in harvesting wild rice to speak with local ricers or rice finishers to find out when rice is ready for harvesting, as well as which lakes in the region have harvestable beds of rice.
Wild rice is considered ripe when it begins to fall off the stalk with little effort stroking the flails (ricing sticks) across the rice plants. If little rice is falling with minimal effort, ricers should consider finding a new area to harvest or return at a later time to prevent damage to immature rice beds.
Wild Rice waters are divided into two separate categories for harvest: date-regulated and non-date-regulated. Date-regulated lakes are located within the Chippewa Indian Ceded Territory in off-reservation areas in the northern part of the state. One exception is Lake Noquebay in Marinette County, a date-regulated lake outside of the Ceded Territory.
Opening harvest dates for date-regulated waters are determined jointly by DNR and tribal officials. Once a particular date-regulated lake is opened, the wild rice harvesting season will last 60 days. All date-regulated waters are posted at access points at least 24 hours in advance of opening day. Many date-regulated waters will be closed for the 2016 season due to poor rice conditions. Closures protect and replenish seed stock and help promote rice growth for future years.
A list of date-regulated lakes with harvesting status can be found on the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission’s wild rice website [exit DNR]. This webpage provides rice abundance information for each body of water listed based on annual aerial and ground survey information.
Ricers may encounter other recreationalists on the water, including anglers, boaters and early season teal hunters. Boaters are encouraged to create no wake in the vicinity of rice beds and avoid direct contact with areas that contain wild rice.
Those harvesting wild rice should be aware that wild rice growing along rivers, streams, and flowages adjacent to private land may be privately owned. Ricers are encouraged to check local land ownership records before beginning their harvest.
The department recently updated the wild rice webpage to include new information about harvesting wild rice, including a question and answer section. Additionally, a short video was created that offers an introductory look at the tools and techniques of wild rice harvest. The video can be viewed on the department’s Youtube page, or by dnr.wi.gov, keywords “wild rice.”