Researcher Looks At Effects Of Sulfide Mining On Wild Rice Beds

Aug 12, 2019

Sarah Dance
Credit Bill Graf

A UW-Madison graduate student is researching the relationship between the upper Midwest rice beds and increased sulfate in the surface water.

Wild rice, or “manoomin” to the Native American nations is more than a food crop. It represents their connection to nature and holds profound spiritual significance. The Menominee Tribe’s name literally translates to “wild rice people.”

PH.D.  candidate Sarah Dance says she found that many researchers didn't have detailed data on wild rice. She says the traditional beds across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois have seen a 30 percent reduction in size.

She says the threat of additional mining across the region also poses a threat...

"...There is a potential for sulfide mining to make a return to the area. That will increase the level of sulfate in the overlying surface waters. It has been proven in many studies done in Minnesota that elevated sulfide conditions in the sediment poor water is the primary controller for wild rice..."

She says wild rice is very nutritious, gluten-free, and if preserved correctly, can be stored for a long time.

Dance says she's watching the permitting of what's known as the "Back 40" mine near Stephenson, Michigan, adjacent to the Menominee River which forms a border with Wisconsin.

"Open pit sulfide mining, regardless of the precautions that we take is incredibly toxic. It will increase the amount of sulfate we see going into the surface water. While levels of sulfate in our surface waters is relatively low, we will see those increases similar to how open pit sulfide mining has increased those levels in Minnesota..."

The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin has objected to the opening of the mine.

Dance's work is part of an effort to form a stronger connection with the state's Native American tribes and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We have a longer interview in the first segment of WXPR Saturday Edition on our website.

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