US Army Corps works with tribe to improve wild rice | News, Sports, Jobs

WATERSMEET – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers researchers are working with the Old Desert Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and other Native American tribes to help improve wild rice productivity, the corps said.

The work of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, supports two six-year studies of USACE Detroit District Planning Assistance to the States.

Wild rice or “manoomin” in the Anishinaabe or Ojibwe language, is found in marginal and riparian wetlands along lakes and rivers in the Great Lakes region. It is culturally significant and an important food source for Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region, the body said. Wild rice is also an essential part of the traditional religious ceremonies of these tribes.

Native American tribes harvest wild rice using traditional methods. Called “hit the rice” the reapers gently guide a canoe through the rice while using “knockers” Carefully knock or brush the ripe rice into the canoe, taking great care not to damage the plants, according to the body. This centuries-old method helps maintain stands of wild rice.

Knowledge of wild rice has been passed down through oral tradition, the body said. ERDC researchers found that Native American tribes were an invaluable repository of ecological and cultural information about wild rice.

In addition to its cultural significance, wild rice is also important to the region’s ecology, the body said. Wild rice is an annual plant without a rhizome, and its seeds germinate following prolonged submersion in cold temperatures. In the ecosystems where it is found, wild rice functions as an aquatic habitat and a food resource.

Wild rice, the body noted, is also sensitive to changes in the ecosystem. Large stands of wild rice indicate a healthy and functioning ecosystem. However, in recent decades wild rice production has declined significantly.

Many factors, including rainfall, water quality, water temperature, vegetation competition, soil properties and hydrology, impact wild rice production.

“Current ERDC research is focused on 12 lakes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” said Jacob Berkowitz, soil research scientist at the ERDC Environmental Laboratory, in a press release. “There are different levels of wild rice productivity in these research lakes.”

ERDC research on lakes, according to the body, focuses on three components, each important in supporting wild rice production: nutrient concentrations in the water column and sediment pore water, soil physicochemical properties and hydrology.

“The ERDC continues to work collaboratively with Native American tribes in the upper Great Lakes region to identify ecological threats to wild rice,” said Berkowitz. “Researchers are developing monitoring and mapping tools to help tribes improve wild rice management.”

The benefits of these updated management practices include improving water quality, reducing flood risk and ensuring the future sustainability of wild rice in the region, the body said.

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