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Forest Service reduces BWCA permits by 13%, outfitters respond

KBJR 6 News at 6pm
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 4:16 PM CST
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TOFTE, MN. (KBJR) - Permits for the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness quota season went on sale Wednesday, but there are not as many to go around this year.

The permit season runs from May 1 through September 30.

The Forest Service determines how many people are allowed in during that time.

This year, there are 248 permits available every day, which is a 13% decrease from 2021.

The Forest Service looks at several different factors to make quota adjustments like public comment, data, and campsite availability.

“What this does is reduce permits at certain entry points to hopefully disperse use away from areas that have become very congested and crowded,” Joanna Gilkeson, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, said.

The BWCA has seen an influx of visitors since the pandemic began.

That is causing natural resource damage and overcrowding popular entry points which prompted the Forest Service to cut nearly 5,700 permits across the entire BWCA.

Sawbill Lake in Cook County is a popular entry point, but it is also one of the several locations seeing a quota cut this year.

Last year, the Forest Service offered 14 paddling permits per day at that launch site.

It is now decreased by three permits a day.

Owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters Clare Shirley said cutting access is not the answer.

“The decreasing access to public lands should never be the first choice,” Shirley said. “The thing about public lands that is so special is that they are owned collectively by all citizens of this country, and it’s managed for us by the government.”

Shirley said her family-run business has been around since before the BWCA was even designated a wilderness and has seen lots of changes over the years.

She said more education is needed to combat the rise in rule violations.

“With the pandemic, people are rediscovering the joy of being outside, which is great, but it also came with a decrease in education for new users in particular of the Boundary Waters,” Shirley said.

Shirley said what matters more than the number of people in the Boundary Waters is whether they know how to protect it and leave no trace behind.

To help meet the demand and crack down on violations, the Forest Service is doubling its permanent workforce this year.

“They can write citations, violations, and can keep track of what we’re seeing in the wilderness,” Gilkeson said.

The additional wilderness rangers will also interact with and educate visitors in the Boundary Waters.

Since there are 13% fewer permits available this year, the Forest Service shared some recommendations to help in your reservation process.

Have two to three backup travel dates in mind in case your preferred days are already booked.

Also, consider various entry points that are not as popular.

Permit reservations are already live.

Click here to learn more.

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