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Boundary Waters permits cut by 5,600 for 2022

Cuts come after unruly behavior, crowded conditions in wilderness.

File: Kawishiwi River in BWCAW
Canoeists paddle a quiet stretch of the Kawishiwi River near Ely on a day in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Forest Service officials on Thursday unveiled new, reduced quotas for BWCAW permits.
Sam Cook / 2002 file / Duluth News Tribune
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Officials at the Superior National Forest on Thursday unveiled their permit quotas for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the summer of 2022, reducing the number of groups allowed in by 13% in an effort to reduce congestion in the nation’s most-visited wilderness.

Under the new limits there will be 37.5 fewer groups allowed into the million-acre wilderness each day, with the cuts spread across several popular entry points.

The reduction in permits is hoped to reduce complaints about bad behavior among campers, especially in the past two summers as more people head outdoors under the pall of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many campers have complained about overcrowding that makes it difficult to find a campsite. And Forest Service rangers have reported unruly behavior, damage to trees and campsites, major litter problems, vandalism and even improperly disposed-of human waste.

120421.N.DNT.bwcawC2_web.jpg
A live tree cut down by campers last summer. Superior National Forest officials say they are reducing the number of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permits available in 2022 to reduce problems in the wilderness. Contributed / U.S. Forest Service

In at least one case in 2020, law enforcement officers had to escort an obnoxious group out of the wilderness.

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Some outfitters have complained that the cuts will hurt their business, forcing them to send fewer customers into the BWCAW all summer.

With permits required from May 1 to September 30, the cuts could potentially mean up to 5,600 fewer groups entering the wilderness, although the actual number is likely to be much lower because the maximum number of campers usually isn’t reached in May and September.

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That means there will be more than 37,500 permits still available when permits become available on a first-come, first-served basis on Jan. 26 through the Forest Service online system, Joanna Gilkeson, a Superior National Forest spokesperson, told the News Tribune.

The permit changes include:

  • Trout Lake — From 14 to 12 daily.
  • Crab Lake & Cummings Lake — From four to three daily.
  • Moose River South — From one daily to one every other day.
  • Lac La Croix only — From eight to six daily.
  • Indian Sioux, north — From six to four daily.
  • Moose/Portage River, north — From seven to five daily.
  • Mudro Lake — From six to five daily.
  • Lake One — Increasing from 7 to 13 daily.
  • Lake One only — From seven to zero daily.
  • Little Gabbro Lake — From two to one daily.
  • Brule Lake only — From three to zero daily.
  • Hog Creek — From five to four daily.
  • Kawishiwi Lake — From nine to seven daily.
  • Sawbill Lake — From 14 to 11 daily.
  • Baker Lake — From three to two daily.
  • Lizz & Swamp Lakes — From four to three daily.
  • Meeds Lake — From three to two daily.
  • Seagull Lake — From 11 to eight daily.
  • Seagull Lake only — From two to zero daily.
  • Saganaga Lake — From 17 to 15 daily.
  • Saganaga Lake only — From three to zero daily.
  • South Lake — From three to two daily.
  • Duncan Lake — From three to two daily.
  • Clearwater Lake — From three to two daily.
  • East Bearskin Lake — From four to three daily.
  • Island River — Increasing from one to two daily.

    Each canoe group can have up to nine people.

The changes also hit hiking trails in the wilderness, with both the Brule Lake and Eagle Mountain trails going from unlimited access to just 1 group daily.

Permits for the 2022 season will be available beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26 at either www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Plan ahead by having at least three travel options, dates and entry points in mind before making a reservation in case your preferred option is unavailable.

In addition to the cuts, the Forest Service has reinstated mandatory pre-trip training for all campers to re-establish rules and norms for “leave no trace’’ camping.

The new quotas are officially a revision of the most recent forest plan and will remain in effect until the next forest plan is adopted or unless specific changes are made again.

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This story was updated at 11:48 a.m. Jan. 14 to correct the number of permit changes for Lake One. Incorrect numbers had been provided to the News Tribune.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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