Harvesting a Traditional Food
4:52 pm
Thu August 28, 2014

Wild Rice Season Behind Schedule

Wisconsin’s wild rice season is getting a late start, thanks to this year’s long winter and cool summer. 

Oneida County lake as seen from above, partially covered with bright green wild rice beds.
Oneida County lake as seen from above, partially covered with bright green wild rice beds.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

Though Labor Day weekend often marks a key time for harvesting the traditional Ojibwe food staple, this year hardly any rice is mature and ready for picking.  That’s according to Wildlife Biologist Peter David with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“I have heard very few reports of rice being ready at this point, there probably are a couple of odd riverbeds.  But by and large, things are not ready to go.”

David says despite the delay in some waters opening, the crop itself is actually better than expected…since some fears that high spring water levels would damage rice plants.

“Abundance-wise, I think we’re actually fairly pleased with what we’re seeing, particularly in the Northcentral part of the state around Rhinelander. The crop is highly variable, some beds that look extremely good, some that look extremely poor.” 

Some off-reservation wild rice waters won’t open until declared ready by DNR and tribal officials.  Meanwhile other lakes and river areas can be harvested at the ricer’s discretion.  David urges people to be gentle with the plants. 

“And one of the things that we really encourage is that people be careful out there.  Rice matures gradually over a couple weeks, and you want to have the opportunity, almost like a strawberry patch, to go back and reharvest that same bed again.” 

Wild rice harvesters may also encounter more waterfowl hunters this year.  The DNR is piloting an early teal season…that opens September 1st. 

David says he hopes conflicts will be minimal, since many hunters favor the early morning hours, and wild rice harvesting must happen after 10 am.