Federal judge allows BWCA tows to continue at current capacity
WTIP file photo
Outdoor News

Federal judge allows BWCA tows to continue at current capacity

The tows go on.

For now.

A court ruling from June 6 denied a request from the environmental group Wilderness Watch to immediately stop motorized towboat usage in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

This news comes about two months after WTIP reported there was news of a court case that could end the longstanding practice of using motorized towboats to help BWCA visitors get started on their wilderness trips.

The US Forest Service allows the use of towboats to assist canoeists starting their BWCA journey, dispersing visitors deeper into the million-acre BWCA. Some outfitters at the end of the Gunflint also use the towboat service to help paddlers reach Quetico Provincial Park via the Cache Bay Ranger Station.

The fear from various outfitters and people who were planning to use a tow this year was that if the federal judge reviewing the injunction rules in favor of Wilderness Watch, it could disrupt the plans of thousands of canoers who have already booked towboat-assisted trips with BWCA and Quetico outfitters. Here in Cook County, the ruling would have impacted Tuscarora Lodge and Outfitters, Seagull Outfitters, and Voyageur Canoe Outfitters most prominently. The ruling would have a much larger impact on the Ely area, where many canoeists receive a tow across Moose Lake each season, among other lakes in the Ely area.

However, Judge Nancy Brasel said that immediately halting the tow services would impact the ability for “older visitors and visitors with limited mobility” to experience the BWCA.

Brasel ruled on the request for an immediate injunction on tow services this paddling season. Environmental advocates are still hoping the Forest Service will significantly scale back the tow systems that currently operate in select areas of the BWCA, including areas at the end of the Gunflint Trail.

Wilderness Watch claims that the Forest Service is not upholding its self-imposed restrictions and limitations of towboat services. The Forest Service’s most recent figures showed that in 2019, there were 4,817 tow boat trips, and 3,815 total trips in 2020. These figures amount to nearly “tripling the level that the Forest Service pledged that it would limit the total to,” according to officials from Wilderness Watch.

Kevin Proescholdt, the Minnesota-based conservation director for Wilderness Watch. He spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about the June 6 court ruling and what the environmental group plans to do next in its quest to reduce or eliminate tows from the BWCA.