Editor's Note: The following article appeared in the latest issue of Mazina'igan
By Peter David
GLIFWC Wildlife Biologist
Mazina'igan, Biboon 2020
The brown stalks are collapsing below the surface, and thin ice is forming on the edges of the rice lakes. The threshing machines have gone quiet. All that is left to ponder is which recipe you will make next. And, when is that manoomin harvest survey going to show up?
It was a challenging year in many ways; challenging for the rice, particularly in northcentral Wisconsin, where high water levels continued for an unprecedented (in the last century anyway) eighth straight year; challenging for rice stewards, whose usual activities were significantly altered by Covid restrictions; challenging for Tribal Rice Chiefs, trying to maintain their role in the midst of a pandemic; and challenging for harvesters, who often had to hunt harder than usual to find rice, and even then frequently found beds hit by rain or wind when they did.
Such is the nature of ricing. There are no guarantees the rice sacks will be full at the end of the day, even from manoomin, a more-than-human being that year in and year out, tries her best to provide as much as she can for the rest of creation. But even when the grain sack is light, it seems that each year manoomin reconnects us to each other, and to those special, natural places of the north country. And each year manoomin seems to tell us a bit more of her story, sometimes directly, and sometimes through the information you share with us.
Part of the story this year seems to be a strong reminder that while manoomim depends on water, a little drought can be a wonderful thing. Unlike northcentral Wisconsin, much of Minnesota was on the dry side this year, and the rice loved it, with many autumn lakes looking like hayfields. Some poorly timed storms may have dampened direct human harvest, but there should be some plump mallards in hunter’s bags this fall.
In Wisconsin, part of the story is revealed by harvest survey respondents, who have taught us how much we depend on just a handful of our state rice beds.
Over the many years we have asked ricers to share their harvest information with us, we have logged 278 different waters where at least one pound of harvest was reported - pretty interesting. But perhaps more dramatic: The 12 most heavily harvested waters have produced one-half of the total off-reservation harvest in the state. Where would we be without them?
This harvest information is also not just of curious interest, but is applied in real ways to rice stewardship. Recently, the State/Tribal Wild Rice Management Committee unanimously supported making some modifications to the list of deregulated lakes in the state. Our long database on harvest information helped point out which lakes would be best to regulate and where it was largely unnecessary.
So, as always, miigwech to all the ricers who share their information, for the good of manoomin. (And spoiler alert: We are going to be asking you a little about how you finished yours this year, so we can understand challenges ricers face after the rice is in the canoe.) It is deeply appreciated. Now until that survey shows up…which recipe are we going to make next?
GLIFWC would like to recognize the hard work and dedication of the Tribal Rice Chiefs who all put in time and effort to help gather and share manoomin information with their communities. This fall saw the passing of former Rice Chief and respected manoomin knowledge holder, Pete McGeshick, Jr., of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community. Pete always brought keen awareness, respect, and pure devotion to the stewardship of manoomin in the Ceded Territories. His insights and knowledge will be greatly missed.