Climate Change Threatens Midwest's Wild Rice, A Staple For Native Americans : The Salt When harvests are bad, Native Americans in the region may go without rice for the year. And there have been a lot of bad years lately, as climate change causes more frequent and severe rainstorms.
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Climate Change Threatens Midwest's Wild Rice, A Staple For Native Americans

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Climate Change Threatens Midwest's Wild Rice, A Staple For Native Americans

Climate Change Threatens Midwest's Wild Rice, A Staple For Native Americans

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Climate change is causing more rain in many parts of the U.S., and more rain means more flooding. And that is bad news for one Great Lakes region crop - wild rice.

NPR's Rebecca Hersher has the story.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Northern wild rice - real wild rice - grows naturally in rivers and lakes all over Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and into Canada. And harvesting it is a group activity, especially in native communities.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is a family homestead.

HERSHER: The Couture family is part of the Ojibwe tribe. They live on the Bad River near Lake Superior. And Chris Couture remembers when he was a kid, lots of people would come harvest near their house.

CHRIS COUTURE: You know, back in the day, you'd come out here during ricing time, and everyone came here. Everyone brought their boats. I mean, every canoe was lined up the whole way.

HERSHER: But the climate is changing, and some people here say it seems to be hurting the wild rice plants.

DYLAN JENNINGS: That used to just be filled with rice, and now there's not rice there anymore.

HERSHER: Dylan Jennings works for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. He personally harvests wild rice every year.

JENNINGS: But our elders always talk about how lush and how just pristine all the wild rice used to be in our area here and how - just how thick it was. And - but nowadays, where I'm coming from as a young person, over the last few years, we've seen major flooding in the area. We've seen other environmental things that have come into play.

HERSHER: Things like a longer growing season as climate change causes average temperatures to rise. Ecologists warn that a longer growing season may sound like good news, but wild rice has adapted to a shorter growing season. Longer summers actually favor other plants and let them crowd out wild rice. And then there's the flooding. There are more frequent and severe rainstorms in the Upper Midwest. Floodwater carries sediment and pollution into the rice beds. Preliminary studies suggest that the cumulative effects of climate change are leading to more bad years for local rice harvests. Dylan Jennings says that's particularly hard on Ojibwe people in the region.

JENNINGS: Wild rice is always used in all of our ceremonies and all of our gatherings, and so, you know, we're dependent upon that. It can be really tough.

HERSHER: As climate change continues, good growing areas for the wild rice plants will be farther north. But the people who rely on it won't be able to follow.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIMITRI STOCKL'S "AS SHE RISES")

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