The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has canceled its wild rice harvest for the first time in history.
The Bad River Tribal Council announced Wednesday that there would be no harvest within tribal boundaries this year because low water levels had dramatically reduced the rice crop.
Tribal members and agencies hope to give the rice a better chance of surviving and expanding with reseeding if the rice beds rest for a year, said wetland specialist Leah Gibala of Bad River’s Natural Resources Department.
The moratorium on harvesting rice covers 12,000 acres in the northern part of the state known as Wisconsin’s Everglades. It includes the Kakagon, Bad River and Bad River Slough complexes, as well as Honest John Lake and the Sand Cut Sloughs off of Oak Point.
The Bad River tribe has harvested wild rice, a staple of its diet, from the beds for centuries. Members will still be able to get permits for off-reservation harvesting this year.
It’s not known how much wild rice is harvested each year. The Natural Resources Department had hoped to start tracking the harvest this year.
Matt O’Claire, a game warden with Bad River’s Natural Resources Department and a tribe member, said the rice’s importance goes beyond food. It plays an essential role in some tribal ceremonies.
“For us, it’s not just a food crop _ it’s medicine,” O’Claire said. “What happens to the rice happens to us, and it’s the same with the wolf or anything else.”