Packsack friends, and all BWCAW enthusiasts, your help is needed!


All BWCAW outfitters, camping guides, fishing guides, towboat services, and the communities that service Boundary Waters campers need your help! The Forest Service is looking for public comment on it's Recreation Commercial Services Needs Assessment. For the past 30 months, the U.S. Forest Service has been conducting a study on Recreational Commercial services provided in the Superior National Forest. This study started when the environmental group Wilderness Watch sued the Forest Service in order to limit the commercial use of Towboats in the BWCAW. The Forest Service decided to take a broader look at all commercial services provided in the wilderness, and have produced a "Recreational Commercial Needs Assessment".

The Assessment can be found here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/superior/passes-permits/event-commercial In this needs assessment the Forest service sites it's mission, framework for sustainable Recreation, factors for the Needs Assessment, existing recreational commercial services, their evaluation criteria, references, and a wilderness evaluation. The Forest Service does a thorough job of covering these areas, and also provides real data taken from commercial recreation records submitted from the past 7 years, maps of the areas in question, and a plethora of information from management plans dating back to 2004. While no decisions are made in the Needs Assessment, there is some mention of possible change that may affect outfitters, the general public and most definitely our local economy. Areas of concern are:

  • When discussing Wilderness Criteria used in the evaluation, the forest service decides to leave out 2-key factors when using Recreational Commercial Services. The two criteria safety/risk & benefit to local economy were not included. This is what the Forest Service has to say: "The reasons for these exclusions include the idea that wilderness is meant to be a place where challenge and risk do occur and wilderness itself does not exist to benefit an economy in a tangible manner." This is concerning because many of the folks we at Packsack help with our tow service are at an older age where they might not be able to carry their own gear, or have a physical disability that prevents them from entering the wilderness themselves. Those folks should not be put at a disadvantage. Also, the idea that the wilderness itself does not exist to benefit an economy in a tangible manner, is in my opinion outrageous! Especially since the Outfitters, fishing guides, resort owners, and many in-town business of the Ely area work so hard to support the wilderness and the folks using it.

  • Another area of concern is in regard to towboat usage. While it had not been said, it is eluded to that the Forest Service may intend to limit the amount of visitors an Outfitter or Special Use provider can service. This might mean your ability to use a towboat in the future. In a brief discussion with the Kawishiwi District Forest Ranger Douglas Smith, Smith mentioned that overall the Needs Assessment has proven that there is still a large need for Commercial Services across the entire wilderness. Except in one area, on one chain of Lakes. I asked if it was towboats on the Moose Lake chain, and he said yes. While he did not mention a need for a change, or a plan of a change on Moose Lake, a change was implied. This could be very damaging to all of the Special Use providers, and outfitters in the entire Ely area, and would affect our local economy.

These are the two most alarming implications in this report. Other implications to consider are:

  • The need to consider small group sizes for outfitters-guides in order to avoid conflicts and resource damage (physical and social);

  • The need to look closely at the areas where wilderness character is being downgraded when considering capacity, current use, allocations, and new authorizations;

  • The under-representation of some ethnic groups, ages, and gender;

  • Changes in visitor use patterns due to constraining factors-more base camping, attempts to get beyond crowed areas, and shorter trips;

  • Concerns involving the use of motorized boats, even though this use is allowed

If you have used, or one day would like to use an outfitter, guide, tow service, hunting/fishing guide, or any other Recreational Commercial Service, we highly recommend you take a look at the Needs Assessment, and fill out the Needs Assessment Public Comment Worksheet 2019. This is YOUR OPPORTUNITY to let the Forest Service know how you feel about this issue and any other issue you have experienced while spending time in the Superior National Forest. The worksheet asks 23 questions, you may email the form to the Forest Service or you may mail it in. The worksheets can be found below: Needs Assessment Public Comment Worksheets It would be helpful if you could submit this worksheet by October 9, 2019 so that the Forest Service may consider your input during their review and planning efforts. If you have further input after October 9, 2019, please continue to submit your worksheet comments. If you have questions regarding this project, please contact Lee Stewart, acting Forest Service Public Services Staff Officer at 218-626-4305. We at Packsack, the Forest Service, and all of the Ely area Outfitters and business would appreciate your attention to this. Many of you folks enjoy this wilderness area and the Commercial Services we offer, please give us a hand during this off season in fighting to keep our services available to you in the future.

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P.O. Box 780, Ely, MN 55731

129 Winton Point Rd. Winton, MN 

PackSack Canoe Trips and Log Cabins created by Nicholas Ott