Minnesota wild rice season opens soon

Wild rice conditions are looking good this year in many areas of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is offering tips and a reminder of important regulations restricting harvest to rice stands that are ripe.

“While I’m hearing reports of good wild rice in some places this year, the hot and dry conditions that much of the state is experiencing means that rice stands are going to vary,” said Ricky Lien, DNR wetland habitat team supervisor. “People interested in harvesting wild rice should do some scouting, both to look for good stands of rice and to determine if they are accessible by boat. We know there are some waters that have good rice stands, but access to them might be a challenge due to low water levels.”

Harvesters usually use a nonmotorized canoe with a push pole or paddles for power, and collect rice using two sticks, or flails, to knock mature seeds into the canoe. While labor intensive, harvesting wild rice can be rewarding and finding a mentor who knows what they’re doing can make the learning process easier.

As people consider harvesting, they need to know the regulations that help protect wild rice stands for future years. Harvesters are encouraged to check the DNR’s wild rice management page for license, regulation and safety information.

Of particular importance, harvesters are allowed to take ripe wild rice each year between Aug. 15 and Sept. 30, but Minnesota’s green rice law makes it illegal to harvest unripe or “green” rice, even within the dates of the harvest season. So although rice beds may look like they are ready, ricers must make sure the grain is ripe and falling easily from the stalk before attempting to harvest it.

Typically, peak harvesting dates are estimated to be in late August to mid-September as long as weather remains mild and dry. This summer’s hot weather may make some rice stands ripen early, but harvesters must still wait until the opening date of Aug. 15 and must ensure that the specific stand they are harvesting is ripe.

Like other forms of gathering, learning from someone who is willing to share skills and knowledge can improve success.

Harvesters should keep access areas clean by packing out what they pack in. And before heading out, harvesters should make a plan for how the rice will be processed. Novice rice harvesters are often advised to use a processor rather than attempt to process themselves. Anyone looking for more information on wild rice in their area can contact their local DNR wildlife manager or a Shallow Lakes Program specialist.

It is unlawful for most people 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.

The exceptions to this are Native Americans and 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 a Leech Lake Reservation permit.