Ripe wild rice harvesting season opens in late August

Wild rice harvesting season opens annually between Aug. 15 and Sept. 30 and wildlife managers say it’s shaping up to be an excellent season this year. 

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. Harvestable stands of rice can be found from the Canadian border down to the metro area.

“Overall, wild rice is looking great across the state,” said Ann Geisen, wildlife lakes specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Some areas were affected by the cold spring or lots of rain. But for most areas it looks like it will be an outstanding year for rice harvesting.”

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. Scouting lakes ahead of time can also be very helpful for finding harvestable stands of rice and to locate access sites.

Here are some updates from around the state:

  • Detroit Lakes – Everything looks good right now for a nice fall crop.
  • Park Rapids – Rice looks good on most local lakes and rivers.
  • Grand Rapids – Rice looks good; seems like the perfect growing year so far.
  • Tower – The rice crop will be average to below average due to abundant rain in June and July; plants are about 7-10 days behind schedule.
  • Bemidji – Rice is dense in most of the rice lakes and looks excellent.
  • Brainerd – Looks to be a good season this year; many of the area’s wild rice lakes will have good access and great rice for harvesting.
  • Little Falls – The unusually cold spring hurt the rice, resulting in delayed growth and below average stands.
  • Metro area – Rice is looking good to excellent.

Minnesota’s green rice law makes it illegal to harvest unripe or “green” rice. So even though rice beds may look like they are maturing well, ricers must make 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.

A license is required to harvest wild rice, unless a harvester is a Minnesota resident age 17 or younger and is accompanied by a licensed harvester. Wild rice harvesting regulations are available at mndnr.gov/wildrice with management and harvesting information at mndnr.gov/shallowlakes.

The 1854 Treaty Authority website at 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.

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, available on the aquatic invasive species page.

Harvesting licenses can be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at 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.