Big Rice Lake Wild Rice Enhancement

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2020 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Outdoor Heritage Fund
Recipient Type
State Government
In Progress
Start Date
July 2019
Activity Type
Counties Affected
St. Louis
St. Louis
Project Overview

Wild rice abundance has greatly declined across Big Rice Lake, while other competitive vegetation has drastically increased. This proposal will utilize knowledge gained from small-scale vegetation work as well as hydrological alterations and apply it to a lake-wide scale to enhance conditions for wild rice success. A total of 2,072 acres of wild rice habitat will be enhanced as a result of the OHF lake outlet work that will impact water levels. 850 acres of the existing 1,000 pickerel weed will be treated to allow wild rice to regenerate.

About the Issue

Big Rice Lake historically was one of the best producing wild rice lakes in northeastern Minnesota for wild rice harvesters and migratory waterfowl use. Today, due to hydrologic alterations, stabilization of water level, and other variables, like changes in climatic conditions and impacts from wildlife herbivory, wild rice has declined across the lake and pickerelweed has become the dominant vegetation. This proposal will accomplish 2,072 acres of wild rice habitat enhancement work on Big Rice Lake. A multi-agency effort will assist in the completion of the project and long-term success. The agencies involved include the US Forest Service, 1854 Treaty Authority, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Minnesota DNR Wildlife and Shallow Lakes Program. In addition to these key players, Big Rice Lake has a large recreational user group and concerned citizen following. Due to the extent of the issue and importance of the enhancement to all entities involved, it is critical that this project be completed as soon as possible. The project will include three sections to address issues of concern. One section will address the outlet control structure that is inefficient and impacting hydrology. The structure is a rock weir which will be removed and the outlet will be restored to the pre-weir conditions to promote natural flow dynamics. The second section will address the public access to ensure large equipment can be launched. The third section will address the pickerelweed dominance and enhance wild rice abundance. Pickerelweed will be reduced by utilizing a combination of Fond du Lac Band’s airboats and harvester barge, Bois Forte Band’s harvester barge, and a DNR airboat and boat with a mudmotor. Once pickerelweed is removed, wild rice will be more likely to re-establish. If wild rice does not re-establish naturally from the resident seed in the substrate, seed from another location will be evaluated and used to reseed Big Rice Lake. 850 acres of the current 1000-acre area of pickerel weed infestation will be removed.The equipment needs will be essential to the long-term success since this project, specifically vegetation control, is predicted to require some small-scale maintenance until pickerelweed is no longer the dominant species. Based on small-scale vegetation work already completed at Big Rice Lake and the information gathered from sources that have completed similar vegetation enhancement projects, there is a high level of confidence that this project will be successful and will enhance 2,072 acres of wild rice habitat for waterfowl, as well as the recreational users, wild rice harvesters, and waterfowl hunters.

Legal Citation / Subdivision
ML 2019, 1st Sp. Session, Ch. 2, Art. 1, Sec. 2, subd, 4(g)
Appropriation Language

$845,000 the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources to enhance and restore wild rice wetland habitat in Big Rice Lake in St. Louis County.

2020 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Direct expenses
Administration costs
Number of full time equivalents funded
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Improved availability and improved condition of habitats that have experienced substantial decline - As noted in a 2008 report to the Minnesota legislature, "The future of natural wild rice in Minnesota will depend in large part on its protection and
management by state and tribal natural resource agencies." Big Rice Lake has serious, but fixable issues. The proposed work for this lake will reestablish wild rice in a large, historically important wild rice lake. Success of the project will be readily apparent based on one measure - does wild rice become abundant in the project area. DNR and tribal biologists will monitor Big Rice Lake to evaluate wild rice abundance over time..

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Minnesota DNR
Street Address
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul
Zip Code
(651) 259-5227
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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