Northland wild rice harvest hurt by June floodingJune’s massive rainstorm was too much for many of the region’s wild rice stands, which flooded and never recovered, experts are saying as the annual rice harvest arrives.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
June’s massive rainstorm was too much for many of the region’s wild rice stands, which flooded and never recovered, experts are saying as the annual rice harvest arrives.
“There will be no wild rice harvest on the reservation this year; there is none to harvest,” said Nancy Schuldt, water quality coordinator for the Fond du Lac band’s environmental program. “The flood just inundated it. The rice was under water too long and never came back.”
Those conditions extend from southern St. Louis County and Carlton County west into Aitkin County, where heavy rains fell throughout much of summer.
Better wild rice crops are reported farther north and west, where less rain fell. Even there, however, weather played a big role in some areas. A massive windstorm July 2 damaged rice in the Lake Winnibigoshish area, and the Bois Forte Band said a July 4 windstorm reduced rice production by about 30 percent in their area.
Darren Vogt, environmental division director for the tribal 1854 Treaty Authority in Duluth, said rice conditions are poor to the south but get marginally better in northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties.
“It isn’t a great year, but it’s not a complete washout up north,” Vogt said.
Vogt expected the first ricers to hit the water this weekend with rice just beginning to ripen.
Peter David, wildlife biologist for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission in Odanah, said an early, warm spring allowed for early germination of wild rice in northern Wisconsin but that heavy rainstorms appear to have had negative effects at some sites. In addition, “the widespread nature of poor rice stands suggests other factors may be involved, as well. This year seems to fit the pattern that has been observed anecdotally of poor crops following mild winters.”
While a few scattered beds look pretty good, the overall crop looks poor, especially in Northwestern Wisconsin, David said in his forecast.
Wild rice is an annual plant and depends on seeds from previous years. Each year’s crop is heavily dependent on water levels, with too much water often washing out much of the crop and too little water leaving it high and dry.
The Northland’s wild rice harvest season typically runs from late August into mid-September.
Minnesota has about 700 lakes and rivers that have wild rice, with more than half of them concentrated in Aitkin, Itasca, Cass and St. Louis counties.
But state officials say the declining number of wild rice harvesting licenses purchased annually may reflect fewer rice beds.
Sales of ricing licenses, required since 1957, peaked at about 16,000 in the late 1960s but have dropped to fewer than 1,300 in recent years. In addition to state-licensed ricers, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 tribal members harvest wild rice annually in Minnesota.