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Storms Make for Smaller, Later Wild Rice Harvest for Ducks and People


BRAINERD, Minn., Aug. 9, 2011—It is a wonder any wild rice is growing at all in Minnesota this year, with all the storms the area experienced this spring and early summer. Although the high water and wind may cause a below-average wild rice crop that is more challenging to harvest, ducks and people should have enough to eat.

Opportunities for human-hand harvesters and ducks are still available, due in large part to the ongoing annual cooperative wild rice lake management efforts of Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with similar efforts by tribes and other partners. Each year, this program keeps outlets on some 100 wild rice lake, covering about 30,000 acres, free flowing and clear of debris, such as beaver dams. These efforts reduce the impacts of heavy rains that can uproot and drown out wild rice plants when lake water levels rise quickly, during the late spring and early summer wild rice growing season. 

According to Rod Ustipak, cooperative wild rice program consultant for DU and DNR, "There should be enough wild rice produced this year to provide quality foraging habitat for brood-rearing and migrating ducks, but the harvestable crop will be below average at best. There will be enough wild rice in some places to sustain decent harvest, but the yields will probably be much like last year, which was also below average."

In addition to the sparse rice, the harvest is likely to be late. "Many stands have only been 'headed out' for a few days, so it is going to take some ideal weather for this rice to mature," Ustipak said. "The rain and the late, cold spring really slowed germination and growth. The harvest is likely to be spread out over a longer period, but a dry weather pattern needs to occur in August to maximize crop production and hand-harvesting opportunities."

The northeast is a little dryer than other parts of northern and central Minnesota, although good wild rice harvesting areas are much more widely scattered in the northeast, as compared to the traditional ricing areas in Aitkin, Crow Wing and Itasca Counties. These counties traditionally have the best yielding wild rice beds. 

Funding for the cooperative DU-DNR wild rice management program, ongoing since 2001, comes from state wild rice hand-harvest license proceeds and private DU funds. DU donors augmented these funds in 2008 through a DU tribute event for Georgia conservationist Tommy Williams. Many ring-necked ducks and other species that rely on wild rice habitat in Minnesota migrate to the southeastern United States. 

The wild rice harvest is still an important tradition, culturally, economically and as recreation for a large number of Minnesotans. Given the importance of wild rice lakes to waterfowl and humans alike, DU also works with private landowners and state agencies to protect sensitive wild rice shorelines and shoreland in northcentral Minnesota counties where wild rice is traditionally important to both ducks and humans. The 2011 legislature appropriated $1.9 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to DU, DNR and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to protect wild rice shorelines through easements and to acquire other tracts in fee-title from willing sellers. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Commission recommended the funding.

Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres, thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.

Becky Jones Mahlum
Related:  newsminnesota

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