Wild rice harvesting season opens Aug. 15; most areas not yet ready

(Released August 11, 2014)

Minnesota’s wild rice harvesting season is open from Friday, Aug. 15, to Tuesday, Sept. 30. Despite the season dates, harvesters must first ensure the rice is ripe before launching their canoes, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota’s green rice law does not allow the harvesting of unripe rice, and the late spring means some rice stands may be slow to mature.

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.

Rice is ripening similarly to last year. Peak harvesting dates are estimated to be in early to mid-September as long as weather remains mild.

“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.”

Some beds that held rice last year may have no harvestable rice, Kanz added. Scouting will be particularly important this year to find decent stands of harvestable rice.

Wild rice is the edible seed of an aquatic grass and is the only cereal grain native to North America. When properly processed and stored, the nutritious grain can be stored for extended periods.

In addition to being a traditional food source for Minnesota’s early inhabitants and an important part of Native American culture, wild rice is an important food staple for migrating waterfowl each fall and the growing plants provide important habitat for fish and invertebrates.

Because of the grain’s importance, harvesting wild rice is regulated in Minnesota. Some guidelines to consider before deciding to harvest wild rice include:

  • 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 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 people may harvest with a permit.
  • Processing is necessary to finish the rice into its final food product.
  • The gathering process is labor-intensive.

Like other forms of gathering, 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.

More information about wild rice management, a list of wild rice buyers and processors, and a list of lakes and rivers containing wild rice is available on the DNR website. The 1854 Treaty Authority website also 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 late August; the results will be posted soon after.

Those interested in harvesting wild rice are reminded 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 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 should follow cleaning protocols to avoid spreading invasive plants and animals.

Harvesting licenses can be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or any DNR license agent.