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- Wildlife Management
Harvesting wild rice in Wisconsin
Wild rice is an annual aquatic grass that produces seed that is a delicious and nutritious source of food for wildlife and people. The seed matures in August and September with the ripe seed dropping into the sediment, unless harvested by humans or wildlife. Seeds on a single stalk reach maturity over a 10-14 day period, with the highest seeds maturing first.
Only Wisconsin residents may harvest wild rice in the state. Harvesters age 17-64 must purchase and possess a wild rice harvesting license for $8.25 annually. Immediate family members (spouse and minor-age children residing in the same household as the license holder) may harvest rice under the same permit as long as the other family members have received special wild ricing identification. Those buying quantities of wild rice for resale or importation as well as those processing wild rice for others or processing wild rice for sale to others must annually purchase a wild rice buyers license.
Harvesters are limited to gathering wild rice in boats no longer than seventeen feet and no wider than 38 inches that must be propelled by muscular power using paddles or push poles. The grain is still harvested by hand using wooden sticks (flails) that bend the tall stalks over the canoe. As the seed heads are tapped, some rice falls in the canoe and some in the water to seed the bed for future years. The flails must be rounded wooden rods or sticks no more than 38 inches long and hand-operated. Harvesting should be done gently, so that the stalks and beds can be harvested again as more rice matures.
A wild rice dealer license is required:
- of anyone who buys wild rice within the state for resale to anyone except consumers;
- to sell wild rice imported from outside of the state to anyone within the state except consumers; and
- to process wild rice not harvested by the processor himself or herself for resale by the processor to any other person.
Wild rice dealer's license fees vary based on the quantity of wild rice the license applicant intends to purchase. Wild rice dealers have to keep records of all wild rice bought, sold or processed during the period covered by their license. The records must include the date of each transaction, the names and addresses of all other parties to the transaction and the amount of wild rice involved, whether raw or processed.
Summary of harvest rules
Wild rice may only be harvested from any navigable waters:
- in boats that are no longer than 17 feet, or greater than 38 inches wide;
- in boats that are only propelled by muscle power using a push-pole or canoe paddle; and
- with smooth, rounded, wooden rods or sticks that are not longer than 38 inches. The sticks must be operated by hand.
It is illegal to use any mechanical device in any water of the state for harvesting or gathering wild rice.
The DNR and many partner groups work to prevent the spread of invasive species in Wisconsin's waters, including our important rice beds. Learn about aquatic invasive species and how to prevent them from spreading.
Season information and regulated lakes
Because wild rice ripens at a gradual, uneven rate, rice can be harvested repeatedly during the season, which may extend for up to two to three weeks on a particular lake. Different water bodies will also ripen at slightly different times, so the harvest season may last four to five weeks overall, if fair weather holds. Ripening is also affected by sediment type, water depth and other factors. An acre of good rice beds can yield over 500 pounds of seed, but hand harvesting will only capture about 10 to 15 percent of this amount.
It is illegal to harvest or gather wild rice in any area of the state of Wisconsin between sunset and 10 a.m. On lakes not subject to a specific wild rice season and on all flowages, rivers and streams, rice may be harvested whenever it ripens. On many of the prime wild rice waters throughout northern Wisconsin rice may only be harvested during the open season. DNR staff and representatives of area Chippewa Indian Tribes cooperate to determine when rice on specific navigable lakes is ripe. The department with rice chiefs from the respective Chippewa tribes will then determine when the season is open for harvesting or gathering wild rice on a specific lake. Notices of when lakes are open are posted on the lakeshores at places of public access at least 24 hours before the beginning of the season.
View status of regulated lakes on the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission page .