New Wild Rice Survey Protocols Released

Two recently released publications provide resource managers with the methods and rationale to estimate annual wild rice biomass, density, and productivity.  Responding to a need for accurate, reproducible field sampling protocols for wild rice, author Tonya Kjerland wrote the Wild Rice Monitoring Field Guide and the Wild Rice Monitoring Handbook as part of her graduate work in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota.  The project drew upon the expertise of tribal biologists, tribal community members, and university researchers to create scientifically-defensible methods that are responsive and respectful to the beliefs of Native American, First Nations, and like-minded peoples.

The Handbook is a comprehensive reference for resource managers and researchers to use in designing wild rice surveys.  The Field Guide is a condensed version designed to support field crews.  The methods are applicable to wild rice stands across the Great Lakes region.

“The project aims to support cooperation in data gathering and analysis across political and organizational boundaries by providing a set of shared methods,” said Kjerland.  “It facilitates pooling of our resources to monitor harvests and to answer important ecological questions.”

In early August, in time for the wild rice harvest season, Minnesota Sea Grant sent 80 copies of the Wild Rice Monitoring Field Guide to resource professionals throughout the Lake Superior basin as a tool to help manage wild rice populations. When asked how she plans on integrating the Wild Rice Monitoring Field Guide and the Wild Rice Monitoring Handbook into her job, Nancy Schuldt, Water Project Coordinator for the Fond du Lac Environmental Program said, “These documents are important in standardizing our approach to wild rice monitoring in this region. They set the benchmark not only for us at Fond du Lac but for other tribes who are just beginning to monitor their populations. We are also hopeful that these protocols will extend beyond the tribal approach.”

One feature that makes these protocols distinctive is the focus on wild rice, an annual plant that is significant for supplying food to humans and wildlife, as well as habitat.  Many existing aquatic plant survey methods have a broader scope or a different purpose, such as assessing overall health of the water body or species diversity.  While the variables for measuring wild rice are carefully defined, the protocols are also flexible.  These methods are expected to be useful in a wide variety of situations and they provide guidance about decisions such as the number and layout of sample points.  One example of a decision managers will make when using these methods is whether to measure wild rice biomass using existing generic equations or by collecting plants.  Using these new methods, biomass per area may be calculated by sampling variables that are relatively easy to measure such as plant height and stalk density.  These computations are possible because the Handbook provides a generic equation that relates plant height to plant weight.

Funding for these projects was provided by The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program, the 1854 Treaty Authority, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and the University of Minnesota.  Both publications are available on the Minnesota Sea Grant website as downloadable PDFs.  The Wild Rice Monitoring Field Guide is also available as a waterproof, spiral-bound manual for $2.50 (including shipping).

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Photo credit: Chris J. Benson, Minnesota Sea Grant