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The U.S. Forest Service is planning to lower the number of people legally allowed to enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) next summer to protect the wilderness area from degradation and overcrowding. 

The number of quota permits available at certain entry points across the Superior National Forest will be reduced starting with the 2022 season.

"We have seen increased visitation, damage to natural resources (littering, tree cutting, visitors not using wilderness latrines), and congestion and crowding resulting in degradation of the wilderness and the visitor experience," Joanna Gilkeson of the U.S. Forest Service told Bring Me The News on Friday. 

Permits are required year-round for everyone who visits the BWCAW. From May 1-Sept. 30 there is a quota permit system for overnight visitors and motorized day trips, which is designed to maintain the integrity of the wilderness area by preventing too many people from entering the BWCAW at the same location, which can result in significant physical and social resource damage to the area.

These permits were in high demand in 2020 and 2021, with some paddlers struggling to find available campsites, especially on the east side of the BWCAW, WTIP reports. The publication says 10 out of 34 entry points on the Gunflint District and six out of 13 entry points on the Tofte District will see permit quota numbers reduced next year. 

Spokesperson Susan Catton told BMTN 24 of the 74 entry points will be affected for paddling and hiking, with most of the charges being a reduction of 1-2 quota per day. 

The hope is that reducing quota permits to the BWCAW will help reduce congestion and help protect the wilderness area. Catton said visitors are "regularly experiencing" crowding, disruptive and oversized groups, lack of campsite availability or "unsettling competition" for campsites and illegal camping. 

People are also littering, cutting live trees and campsite vegetation, which causes severe erosion, and washing dishes and their bodies with soap in lakes, as well as not properly using latrines. 

Though, the Forest Service isn't only reducing the number of visitors to the BWCAW to preserve the wilderness area. Gilkeson said it is using other management tools like education, including requiring visitors to watch a video about not leaving a trace, and hiring more wilderness rangers. 

Related [Jan. 16]: All BWCA visitors will now have to watch three 'Leave No Trace' videos

The BWCAW, which is the most visited wilderness area in the United States, has been a popular place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The wilderness area saw a 16% increase in annual visitors in 2020 compared to 2019, the Forest Service's use report shows. There were 165,918 annual visitors to the BWCAW in 2020, up from 143,140 in 2019 but prior to 2020, the number of annual visitors to the area had been slowly declining. 

The Forest Service is basing its decision to reduce quota permits on "at least the last 20 years of crowding/noise, physical resource damage, lack of campsite availability/competition for campsites, visitors’ complaints, entry point/portage/campsite condition monitoring, encounter/solitude monitoring, etc." Catton said. 

The last time the Forest Service adjusted quota permits was 2012. 

Quota permit reservations for the 2022 season will be available starting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. 

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