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Long-term study has immediate forecast for Wisconsin wild rice

MOLE LAKE - Researchers say Wisconsin's wild rice harvest will be smaller than last year's, and there's been an increase in fungal disease.

Those findings are part of an intensive, two-year study that the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) has just wrapped up. GLIFWC teams surveyed more than 300 wild rice sites across northern Wisconsin, by land, lake, and air.

"The thing about rice is that it's an annual plant and so its productivity can vary a great deal year to year," says Peter David, lead investigator on the GLIFWC project. "We can see lakes with that might have a couple hundred acres of rice one year have almost nothing the next. So it's very interesting to gather that information on the annual variability as well as the long term trends."

David says there's a lot of data to go over, but immediate findings show that this season's harvest will be only a third of last year's. He says the drop is due to the soggy, humid weather, which isn't good for wild rice. But it's good for brown spot disease, which he's seen in more ricing sites than usual lately.

David says he'll try to share this information with local harvesters, so they know which lakes will be the better ones to visit.

Sokaogon Chippewa tribal elder Charles Ackley appreciates the heads-up. The 88-year-old resident of Mole Lake says his younger relatives are readying their canoes, but are curious just how local lakes are faring with their wild rice.

"They're all getting anxious, now," laughs Ackley. "The old timers used to start in August. There are some lakes that it's kinda low, and the water gets warm there, fast. And so it ripens up, faster."

The wild rice survey will also see how well restoration efforts have fared between GLIFC, the Department of Natural Resources, and local tribes. Researchers hope to know if wild rice is declining, or perhaps rebounding to earlier, historical levels.

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