Stauber pressures Forest Service to reinstate Boundary Waters permit lottery

Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN8) testifies in the House of Representatives on July 10. (Via YouTube)

The Congressman who represents Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, which includes the Superior National Forest, spoke in Congress last week about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permits system. Rep. Pete Stauber (R) is seeking to pass a bill that would force the Forest Service to return to using a lottery for entry point reservations.

All permits in the Boundary Waters were offered by lottery until 2012. Since then, only permits for five entry points on Moose and Fall Lakes have been subject to it, in particular because the lottery system was a key part of many outfitters’ business on those lakes.

Last winter, the U.S. Forest Service cancelled the lottery, offering all permits on a first-come, first-serve basis. The change happened at the same time as a new online reservation system was launched, which quickly crashed and caused more than a month of delay before going online again. The system was developed by the consulting firm Booz Hamilton, a major government contractor.

A tow boat and fishing boat at an outfitter on Moose Lake. (Photo by Greg Gjerdingen via Flickr)

The system crash and ending the lottery combined to cause headaches and financial losses for several businesses.

Outfitter Ginny Nelson told MinnPost that they preferred the old lottery system, as it meant people booked trips earlier, and “…because we didn’t have to be prepared for a ‘go-live’ date and then scramble to get permits as fast as we could, hoping the internet worked.” Nelson and other outfitters have expressed a desire to have the motor permits, in particular, returned to the lottery system.

“Instead of allowing folks to sign up for their desired permits ahead of time, cooperators and individuals had to simultaneously log on to Recreation.gov at 10 am on Jan 30,” Stauber said in testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “This year my office was inundated with calls from outdoor enthusiasts and forest service cooperators about recreation.gov crashing within minutes into its ‘go-live’ time.” Stauber introduced the Letting Outdoor Tourism Thrive for Every Recreation Yearly (LOTTERY) Act on Feb. 28 to bring back the permit lottery.

The bill would require it for all permits, not just the five final entry points. “The way we were doing it, it may not have been perfect,” Stauber told MinnPost. “But it’s much better than what we have now.”

Recreation.gov homepage, permit reservation system.

A Forest Service spokesperson, who testified at the hearing, apologized and reassured the committee that the system would not fail next winter when permits become available. But there still won’t be a lottery.

“We deeply regret the delay caused as a result of the permit system upgrade,” Frank Beum, Acting Associate Deputy Chief told the committee. He also said that resuming the lottery would cause “management challenges.”

But he did not say the agency opposes the legislation.

“The Forest Service believes the new first-come-first-serve reservation system provides the best opportunity for members of the public to obtain day-use motor permits at the five entry points previously under the lottery system,” Beum testified.

Stauber pointed out that outfitters and resorts in northeastern Minnesota mostly have slow internet connections, leaving them disadvantaged when competing against people around the country with fast connections. Beum said he was not aware of that challenge, and closed his remarks by saying he “looks forward” to working with Stauber to improve the system.

No senators have introduced companion legislation in their chambers, but Stauber said he hopes one of Minnesota’s will.

Video via Rep. Pete Stauber:

Testimony to the subcommittee:

More information:


New BWCAW permit system fails on first day, reservations remain unavailable

BWCAW permit reservation system re-launch date announced, outfitters say process flawed

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