Putting wild back in the rice, and rice back in the wild

Michigan State Roundup

Published September 1, 2004  | September 2004 issue

Wild rice used to cover lakes all over the U.P., and if a new initiative is successful, someday it will again.

In the 20th century, the area's wild rice almost disappeared due to development, logging and dams. Much of the "wild" rice now sold in stores is actually farmed in places like California.

But a little rice still grows on Indian reservation lakes. Tribal communities, along with the Cedar Tree Institute, now plan to reintroduce the rice into area lakes. They have 400 pounds of seed and have begun to test which waters will be best for growth. The program will also make use of the memories of tribal elders to identify lakes where the rice used to flourish.

For now, the program is more environmental than commercial. The rice will provide a better habitat for fish and may decrease salinity in the lakes.

Only Native Americans will be allowed to harvest the rice. It will take several years for the rice beds to develop, at which point the tribes may decide to turn the project into a business venture.

Joe Mahon