Forest Service adjusts Boundary Waters permit process to improve Leave No Trace education

A canoeist waits off-shore at a portage landing to give another party time to safely leave, per BWCAW policy. (Video still from Leave No Trace videos produced by Superior National Forest)
A live tree cut down at a BWCAW campsite in the summer of 2020 is a symbol of the many Leave No Trace violations that occurred during an extraordinary summer in the wilderness. (Photo courtesy Superior National Forest)

Boundary Waters permits for the quota-restricted season will go on sale on Jan. 27. Like last year, visitors will not be required to pick up their permits at a ranger station or cooperating business, due to concerns about spreading COVID-19. But changes are being made to address problems experienced in the wilderness in 2020.

With a surge of visitors last summer, and with no requirements for in-person Leave No Trace education, the Superior National Forest reported an unfortunate increase in destructive behavior in the Boundary Waters.

“The Superior National Forest temporarily modified the BWCAW permit issuance process to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by allowing permits to be printed at home,” Forest Service wilderness specialist Ann Schwaller told Quetico Superior Wilderness News last June. “So new visitors printing permits at home may need, but are not receiving, in-person wilderness camping education from our ranger stations or local outfitters.”

The problems were many, including cutting of live trees, human waste not being properly disposed of, trash left in campfire rings, disruptive and oversized groups, and campfires left unattended. The Forest Service says there was an uptick in illegal access to the wilderness, and search-and-rescue operations.

Many of the record number of visitors in 2020 were first-timers, meaning they had never received in-person education about safety, wilderness ethics, or responsible recreation.

For the upcoming season, with in-person permitting still not safe, the Forest Service is trying to ensure everyone gets some basic Leave No Trace (LNT) education.

“All permit holders are required to watch three LNT education videos and review the BWCAW Regulations and Rules prior to receiving their permit,” the Superior National Forest announced. “Permit holders are required to watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the series prior to the final step to securing their permit. Video links are emailed to permit holders at the time of reservation and two weeks prior to their entry date.”

Trash, including illegal glass bottles, left at a BWCAW campsite in September 2020. (Photo courtesy Superior National Forest)

All three Leave No Trace videos, which debuted in 2019, are available for viewing on YouTube. The first two are intended to be viewed before a BWCAW trip, with the third supposed to be shown when picking up a permit.

BWCAW permit reservations for the 2021 season, which extends from May 1 to Sept. 30, will be available beginning at 9:00 a.m. CST on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

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