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Wild rice harvest season at peak

Across the Northwoods, its peak harvest time for wild rice.

Northern wild rice grows only in the Upper Midwest.

To Ojibwe people, it’s sacred.

Manoomin, or wild rice, is a part of the Ojibwe creation story and for centuries was a main part of the pre-colonial diet.

Across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, populations of wild rice are in decline.

However, there are many people who want to reverse that and see the resource flourish again.

Wild rice harvest seasons start in late August and continue until mid-late September.

Jason Fleener, wetland habitat specialist with the Wisconsin DNR, described wild rice’s central role in our ecosystem.

“It's a very valuable food source for wildlife. Ducks, Rails, and a lot of different water birds will utilize it for habitat and for food. It provides good cover for fish that have their young, and it's also a good water quality indicator. So where you do see wild rice growing, that typically means that you have good water quality,” he said.

Today, the plant is threatened by climate change.

Wild rice is a hardy winter species, and in a warming climate, there are competitors edging them out of their habitat.

More regular extreme rainfall can uproot young wild rice in its floating leaf stage, destroying its chance to mature.

Then there’s human activity- some dams and irresponsible boating can also threaten wild rice populations.

“We do a lot of management activities to promote wild rice growth. And the biggest thing that DNR does is through water level management,” said Fleener.

There are also restoration efforts in partnership with tribal nations and organizations like Wisconsin Waterfowl Association and Ducks Unlimited.

“We will procure seed and then feed that strategically on lakes and floaters, where we'd like to see it restored where the public can enjoy it,” he said.

If you’re interested in ricing, Fleener recommends visiting the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission’s website.

They have information on how the plant is faring, lists of more productive lakes, and photos.

You can also visit the Wisconsin DNR website, where you’ll find video tutorials on how to harvest respectfully, as well as information on regulations and where to harvest.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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