Wild rice season is set to begin in Northern Wisconsin. Manoomin, the traditional food of the Ojibwe nations, typically ripens around Labor Day. But harvesters may need extra patience this year.
Only three out of about 50 lakes regulated by state and tribal officials will open for ricing by this weekend. Manoomin biologist for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Lisa David says Wisconsin’s late spring delayed ripening in some areas.
“There’s a lot that is still late. And so we just want to get across that people should really go out and look at the bed before they start knocking rice. Because you can damage the rice by trying to knock off green rice that’s not ready.”
Checking for ripeness is especially important in waters that don’t have a set opening date. Those make up the majority of the more than 300 Wisconsin Lakes that host wild rice…where it’s up to individual harvesters to determine if the grains are ready. The Department of Natural Resource’s wetland habitat biologist Jason Fleener says though the season may be late, he’s expecting it to be slightly more productive than last year.
“Over the past few years the rice harvest has not been great. There’s really mixed results across the state. Some lakes are complete failures in areas that have historically produced rice, and then some are above average. So it’s really a mixed bag.”
Lac du Flambeau spokesman Brandom Thoms says his tribe is concerned about the long term trend of smaller harvests.
“Recent years our wild rice crops have been diminishing. And it’s a great concern of our community and the Ojibwe nation as a whole. You know it was a staple of our existence, and you know it’s a spiritual food.”
The Lac du Flambeau tribal council is monitoring wild rice beds on the reservation, but has not yet given the go-ahead for harvesting. So far about 20 off-reservation lakes have been declared closed to rice harvesting for the season.
Bear Lake opens Thursday. Mud Hen and Long Lake open on Friday.