Insider: September 8, 2017

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The Wild Rice Harvest Begins, Under Threat from Oil Pipelines

At the end of every Minnesota summer, a centuries-old tradition continues on the waters home to the plant the Ojibwe call “manoomin”– wild rice. It’s known to many as the state grain of Minnesota, but wild rice has a much greater significance to the Ojibwe bands around the state who call these lands and waters home. Manoomin lies at the heart of Ojibwe history, culture, and well-being, and tribal members maintain the treaty rights to continue to harvest it and protect the lakes it grows on. Unfortunately, these rights have been disregarded by outside interests who seek to profit by polluting – namely the oil pipelines that already cross these vulnerable waters.

Wild rice has formed an integral part of the Ojibwe people’s identity since they first came to the lands that now include Minnesota. According to oral history, the Ojibwe were told by the Creator to seek out land “where food grows on the water.” Manoomin has since been a staple of Ojibwe meals, and the harvest has successively been passed down to each generation. As a natural grain, it has tremendous health benefits. Winona LaDuke, the executive director of Honor the Earth and member of the White Earth Band, called it “Food for the belly and food for the soul. Its nutritional value is incomparable.”

 It’s a tradition that brings together communities. In an interview Debra Topping, a member of the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe, said that she had spent the morning harvesting with family members, and said she hoped for her grandson to soon participate and learn about the tradition. Harvesters work from around 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon for roughly a month, using “knockers” made by community members to collect the grain. And wild rice isn’t solely a crop for human consumption – it feeds all of the life in the area it grows, including worms, insects, fish, and the animals and birds that prey on them – Topping has seen owl pellets containing still-intact grains of manoomin.

Because wild rice is a resource vulnerable to overharvesting and pollution, tribal communities carefully manage its use. Levi Brown, Director of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s Environmental Department and member of the Leech Lake Band, said that the harvest time and length is determined by a community rice committee based on weather and the health of the paddies. In this, he says, “It is a government by and for the people.” The Leech Lake community manages an important and enormous resource – one-tenth of all the water in Minnesota is within the reservation’s borders, and the size of the resulting wild rice crop averages around 250,000 pounds a year.


As expansive as the wild rice waters are today, they have fallen precipitously since white settlers arrived. Winona LaDuke says that more than 70% of the original waters no longer support the grain, and threats to the remaining waters continue to mount. This is despite the treaty rights the Ojibwe hold, allowing them to have sole harvest and regulatory control over the crop on treaty lands. Said Levi Brown, “If have the sole right to regulate the resource, doesn’t it make sense that you should have the ability to protect it from harm?”

These rights are at the core of the Ojibwe struggle against Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline, which would pump some of the dirtiest oil on earth directly through wild rice watersheds. According to Winona LaDuke, other Enbridge pipelines in the same area have already leaked, and no EIS has ever been conducted on the damage they have done. Previous studies of the new Line 3 indicate that there is no possible route that would not harm wild rice waters. The damage that a spill would cause would be catastrophic, and likely irreparable to the grain’s survival.

The Ojibwe have decisively said “no” to this new pipeline, but so far it has continued to move forward through the regulatory steps, and Enbridge has already begun construction on the Wisconsin segment of Line 3. Debra Topping says she is doing her best to educate people who haven’t heard about the pipeline’s consequences, so that Enbridge and the Department of Commerce will have to face public accountability. And Winona LaDuke, Honor the Earth, and tribal members have promised to continue the fight against Line 3 at every stage of the process. “My family has riced for generations,” LaDuke said, “and you’re not going to take that away from us.”

To learn more about Line 3’s impacts on the Ojibwe and northern Minnesotans, and how you can be an ally in this battle, visit For more information on pipelines, water, climate issues, and more ways to take action, you can also visit our website at

The Energy Fair comes to St. Paul September 9-10

Join dozens of groups from the clean energy community this weekend at The Energy Fair, September 9th and 10th at Harriet Island Park in St. Paul. Admission is FREE to 80+ workshops and 60+ exhibits on sustainable living, community resilience, and clean energy. The fair will feature several speakers from MEP member groups, including keynote speaker Tara Houska of Honor the Earth, as well as Fresh Energy’s Michael Noble. There will be free rides available from Metro Transit and all-electric shuttle from Union Depot. Solar Professional Day September 8th. All access passes and information can be found at We hope to see you there!

Surge in Minnesota clean-energy jobs prompts calls for tighter energy standards

(From Star Tribune) — Jobs related to clean energy in Minnesota have grown 5.3 percent over the past year, a significant uptick that prompted a bipartisan team of state lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to call Thursday for boosting the state’s renewable energy goals in 2018. Over the last year, the state added 2,893 jobs in the clean energy industry for a total of 57,351 jobs, according to a new report from the nonprofit group Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, an industry-led nonprofit group. That’s nearly four times faster than the overall job growth rate in Minnesota — and evidence that the state should keep up the momentum, officials said in a news conference at the State Capitol. Clean energy jobs now comprise 1.9 percent of the state’s total employment, with the bulk of those jobs involved with increasing energy efficiency, in buildings for instance. >Read More.

Sustainable: Energy storage could bolster electric grid

(From Finance and Commerce) — While solar and wind continue to capture headlines and investments in the renewable energy economy, the prospect of more affordable energy storage could bring significant changes to the electric grid. Across the country, the idea of pairing solar with energy storage is taking hold, with one such project having been recently completed in Duluth and another proposed by Connexus Energy, the state’s largest electricity cooperative. For several years, Xcel Energy has had a one-megawatt battery in Luverne, a pilot project to capture wind energy in southwest Minnesota. It has also proposed to regulators a solar-storage project in Belle Plaine. >>Read More.


Raiding Clean Water Fund damages clean water quest

(From Morrison County Record) — In 2008, during the Great Recession, Minnesotans voted by a considerable margin to amend the state constitution to increase their taxes. The state sales tax was increased by three-eighths of 1 percent for 25 years with the increased revenue to be dedicated to four distinct purposes. One-third of the new revenue is constitutionally dedicated to “…the Clean Water Fund and may be spent only to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and to protect groundwater from degradation….” The constitutional amendment further provides that these funds “… must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.” >>Read More.

New findings suggest serious threat to Great Lakes fish from, yes, Prozac

(From MinnPost) — New research from the Niagara River suggests that Great Lakes fish are consuming and concentrating pharmaceutical pollution  — especially antidepressants and their breakdown products  — in amounts considerably higher than previous studies have indicated. Because these compounds have a demonstrated ability to harm fish by inducing physiological and behavioral changes, the lead scientist on the project says, the results demonstrate “a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned.” Those are the words of Diana Aga, a chemistry professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in gauging the environmental effects of new, nonindustrial “pollutants of emerging concern.” >>Read More.

Dayton’s 25 by 25 meetings head north, then to Twin Cities Metro

Governor Dayton has so far hosted five of his ten planned town hall meetings on his proposed “25 by 25” Water Quality Goal throughout Minnesota. The Governor is seeking input on how to improve the health of our state’s waters by 25% by the year 2025, and wants to hear Minnesotans’ ideas. The next several meetings will be coming to Ely and Bemidji, with events in the Twin Cities Metro to follow. For more information on how you can give your own input at a town hall, visit



Soybean Association to study dicamba herbicide complaints

(From Mankato Free Press) —  Farmers across the state and the Midwest have filed complaints of a new dicamba herbicide sprayed on neighbors’ fields that has spread onto their soybeans, causing damage to the plants. “There have been over 200 reports of damage that have come into the Department of Agriculture in nearly 50 counties. There is speculation that only 30 percent of damaged fields have been reported,” said Michael Petefish, president of the Mankato-based Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. The growing concern over dicamba and other herbicides being developed to kill weeds that have become resistant to other weed killers led the association to form a dicamba task force. They hope to learn the reasons for the damage and to find the best ways to fight resistant weeds while protecting crops. >>Read More.


photo credit: NASA

Emmer, Nolan add amendment to defund mining study

(From Duluth News Tribune) — Minnesota U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer and Rick Nolan late Wednesday successfully added an amendment to a House appropriations bill to defund a proposed U.S. Forest Service study of all mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The study was proposed earlier this year, along with a moratorium on mining near the BWCAW, a move that would stifle the proposed Twin Metals copper mine along the Kawishiwi River southeast of Ely. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also denied Twin Metals permits needed to prospect or mine on federal land in the area. Amendment  No. 70 to the Interior Environment Appropriations portion of the omnibus bill prohibits the Forest Service from spending any money on the study. The full bill passed a House vote late Thursday. >>Read More.


Farmers, beekeepers put aside differences to aid bees

(From MPR News) — A new pilot project in North Dakota aims to get past frequent finger-pointing between beekeepers and farmers over the decline in bee populations and get them to work together with scientists to reverse the trend. “It’s an effort to help everybody realize that it is a complex issue and that solving one of the issues that causes stress for bees is not going to solve all of the problems,” said Zac Browning, a fourth-generation beekeeper at Browning’s Honey Company near Jamestown, N.D., and one of the project’s developers. The honey bee industry has struggled for years with the effects of disease, parasites, pesticides and the loss of habitat to feed bees. Those problems have often created tensions between beekeepers and agriculture over where to place blame for bee colony losses, and led to simplistic and unsuccessful fixes. >>Read More.


photo credit: MPR

University files lawsuit over hazardous materials detected at properties near Rosemount

(From Minnesota Daily) — The University of Minnesota is suing the federal government and DuPont over hazardous materials detected at one of its properties. The $3 million lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court of Minnesota on Aug. 11, is seeking reimbursement for investigations and potential cleanup costs at a nearly 8,000-acre University property near Rosemount, Minnesota. The land makes up the University of Minnesota Outreach, Research and Education (UMore) Park and Vermillion Highlands. The site was originally operated by DuPont through a government contract during World War II to make gunpowder. >>Read More.


Weekly Outdoor Trivia – Answers Below Job Postings!            

1. What Minnesota city and county are named after the Ojibwe word for wild rice?

2. The two longest rivers with segments in Minnesota are the Mississippi and the Red River of the North. What is the third-longest, which flows through a city in Iowa?

3. On what lake on the Mississippi River did Minnesota inventor Ralph Samuelson develop the sport he created – water skiing?

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Trivia Answers: 1) Mahnomen 2) Des Moines 3) Lake Pepin

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The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) is a coalition of more than 70 environmental and conservation organizations working together for clean water, clean energy, and protection of our Great Outdoors.

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