Re-establishing wild rice beds in the St. Louis River estuary is proving to be a challenge because of predation.
With 56,000 pounds of rice already placed in the water since 2012, the self-perpetuating annual aquatic grass just hasn’t taken hold the way organizers had hoped it would.
Superior’s Parks and Recreation Commission is recommending the city grant permission to use city-owned land to help address the problem by rounding up geese to stop predation of the wild rice plants.
“The problem we’re seeing is the geese are eating the plant to an extent that it’s not going to succeed each year,” said Matt Steiger, St. Louis River Area of Concern coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource. “We’re getting good germination, good growth. The water quality and sediment seem right, and plants just aren’t able to reproduce. So, we’re buying a lot of rice and we’re putting it in the water.”
With a goal of restoring 275 acres of wild rice from below the Fond du Lac Dam to Allouez Bay in Minnesota and Wisconsin waters as part of the greater effort to delist the St. Louis River Area of Concern, Steiger estimates the project will cost about $1.2 million by 2025.
“It’s a significant effort,” Steiger said.
He said seeding has occurred below the Fond du Lac dam, wetlands near Clough Island, the upper bays near the Fond du Lac neighborhood and in Allouez Bay and is monitored annually.
“The biomass of the germination has not reached the goals that we’re looking for, but most of these places had no rice to begin with,” Steiger said. “We are seeing it grow. We’re seeing it germinate … emerge but the issue is we’re not getting a self-sustaining bed due to, in most part, by predation by Canada goose.”
The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve has been involved in the investigation of the problem. Stations were set up using game cameras and monitoring water levels to determine the source of the problem.
“Our water levels are OK for wild rice,” said Deanna Erickson, director of the reserve. However, she said geese are browsing when the wild rice is getting ready to flower and go to seed, damaging the plants before they reproduce. She said if dense stands of wild rice could be established, the geese would be less likely to browse in the area.
“We have to get around the geese first,” Erickson said. “We’re really stuck. We’ve been doing this for years and this is where we’re at.”
Steiger said a variety of methods have been used to protect the rice beds including egg addling, visual and physical deterrents like fencing, harassing the geese in kayaks and placing swan decoys.
“We don’t take rounding up and lethal removal of geese or any species lightly,” Steiger said. He said the effort, which would be led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, would likely take place over the course of two days in June, when geese are molting and don’t fly. He said the effort would focus on sites where wild rice is being re-established, not city parks, and the public will have a chance to comment on the plan before the roundup takes place.
Erickson said if dense wild rice stands could be established, geese would be less likely to browse in those areas.
The Superior City Council will consider the recommendation April 7.