Lawsuit Seeks to Reduce Motorboat Tow Trips in the Boundary Waters

A BWCAW shuttle boat
A BWCAW shuttle boat (Photo by David Grant via Flickr)

The U.S. Forest Service is allowing outfitters to run too many tow trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, shuttling canoes and canoeists across motorized lakes, according to a new lawsuit. Montana-based Wilderness Watch, with longtime BWCAW advocate Kevin Proescholdt on staff, is trying to force the Forest Service to enforce an annual limit agreed on in 1993.

According to Wilderness Watch, such trips are supposed to be capped at 1,342 per year. Last year alone, there were 2,124 trips, exceeding the limit by 58 percent. The group also alleges that outfitters are under-reporting tow trips to the Forest Service, excluding certain trips or counting separate drop-off and pick-up trips as a single trip. The lawsuit states that LaTourell’s Resort acknowledges it does not include its shuttle trips to Prairie Portage in its self-reported numbers, without explanation.

“On typical summer days, the towboats are zipping back and forth, quite a bit on [the Moose chain of lakes],” Proescholdt told Minnesota Public Radio News. “And for those of us who prefer to paddle, it really diminishes the wilderness experience when there are these towboats zooming past us again and again and again.”

Proescholdt said his organization is not seeking to stop all motorized use in the wilderness, but for the Forest Service to enforce its rules. Outfitters that offer the rides disagree. “To me it’s just another way to take all of the motors out, which is their goal,” Bob Olson of Canoe Country Outfitters in Ely told MPR. Mike Prom of Voyageur Canoe Outfitters on Saganaga Lake said tow trips have actually declined in the 23 years he has owned his business.

In the lawsuit, Wilderness Watch states, “The Forest Service’s authorization of motorboat use at a level that strains the wilderness environment and degrades the wilderness character of the BWCAW is in violation of the Wilderness Act.” The group is requesting that the Forest Service implement a permit system to ensure towboats numbers don’t exceed the limit each year.


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