The U.S. Forest Service (FS) is conducting a needs assessment of commercial recreational services within the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) as part of a lawsuit settlement with Wilderness Watch over motorized towboat use in the 1.1 million-acre Wilderness.
The Boundary Waters is America's most popular and water-rich Wilderness. Its more than 1,000 pristine lakes and 1,200 miles of rivers and streams are among the cleanest waters in North America.
In 2015, Wilderness Watch filed a lawsuit in federal district court to force the FS to comply with its own plans and regulations limiting commercial towboat use in the Boundary Waters. The FS had allowed towboat use to grow so much that such use may be pushing all motorboat use in the BWCAW to exceed the overall motorboat cap imposed by Congress as well as subsequent reductions made to preserve wilderness values.
Wilderness Watch discovered that the FS never set up any system to actually monitor or control the number of towboat trips. The FS instead relied upon reports submitted by the outfitters after the season was finished. These after-the-fact reports provided no way for the FS to track the number of towboat trips during the season, and to end towboat trips when the maximum limit had been reached. As a result, many years since 1993 witnessed significant violations of the towboat limit, with the FS doing nothing to correct this problem, until Wilderness Watch’s successful lawsuit forced them to finally confront this issue.
Towboats are profitable commercial operations that ferry canoe parties as far into the BWCAW as motorboat use is allowed in order to save canoeists time. Despite their name, towboats typically do not tow canoes, but rather carry them on overhead racks. But towboat use makes many lakes (or chains of lakes) wilderness sacrifice zones with motorboats constantly buzzing back and forth.
Making matters worse, towboat customers are often wilderness paddlers who want to save time getting to the adjacent Quetico Provincial Park on the Ontario side of the border, which generally has a wilder feel than the BWCAW. But in using towboat services, these customers degrade the Boundary Waters Wilderness through which they zoom.
PLEASE NOTE: In addition to submitting your public comment below, we highly encourage you to complete the Needs Assessment Public Comment Worksheet created by the Forest Service for obtaining public input on this issue. Submitting the worksheet requires you to print it out and send it either via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or via postal mail to Superior National Forest, c/o Lee Stewart, 8901 Grand Avenue Place, Duluth, MN 55808. In any event, if you have visited the Boundary Waters and had your wilderness experience impacted by commercial towboats, we strongly encourage you to describe those impacts when submitting your comment below or when filling out the Forest Service form.
Take action to protect and defend wilderness character in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness!
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