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Forest Service to drop BWCAW lottery after 2018

Butch Diesslin of Ely has a good portion of Basswood Lake to himself. Diesslin fishes Basswood often during the summer for walleyes, bass, northern pike, bluegills and crappies. (August 2009 Forum News Service file photo)

ELY, Minn. — The U.S. Forest Service has announced that its lottery system for issuing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permits for a few highly sought entry points near Ely no longer will be used after the 2018 season.

The system will be replaced by the first-come, first-served system now in use at other entry points for the Boundary Waters, said Kris Reichenbach, public affairs officer for Superior National Forest.

"We're doing away with the lottery system because we no longer see there's a benefit to the public to continue the lottery for these few entry points," she said. "And now people can find out immediately if a permit is available. If not, they know it immediately rather than waiting for the results of the lottery."

The change for the 2019 season and beyond applies only to people entering at Fall Lake and Moose Lake east of Ely at entry points D, F, G, 24 and 25. The change affects those seeking day-use motor permits for (D) Fall Lake, Newton Lake, Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake and beyond; (F) Moose Lake to Newfound and Sucker lakes; and (G) Moose Lake to Prairie Portage to Basswood Lake. The change affects those seeking overnight motor and overnight paddle permits for Fall Lake (entry point 24) and and Moose Lake (entry point 25). The permits are required from May 1 through Sept. 30.

Formerly, users seeking those permits put their names in a lottery, and successful applicants were selected by a computer system. Under the new system, applicants will be able to apply for these permits by phone or online starting on a specified date in late January.

In a separate change for 2018 while the lottery system is still in place, a $4 fee will be charged for each application at these highly sought entry points on Fall and Moose lakes. The charge is being made to offset fees the Forest Service must pay the contractor that processes reservations, Reichenbach said.

Motor-use permits for the Fall Lake and Moose Lake chains of lakes are highly sought by Ely-area residents and others, many of whom want to reach Basswood Lake on the Minnesota-Ontario border. The lake is renowned for its walleye, smallmouth bass and northern pike fishing.

Most visitors to the million-acre wilderness along Minnesota's northern border travel by canoe and paddle. Motor use is prohibited on most lakes within the BWCAW.

Charlene Hall of Williams and Hall Outfitters on Moose Lake said it has always been difficult to get overnight and day-use motor permits for Basswood Lake under the lottery system.

"They have been almost impossible to get for us personally," Hall said. "In the lottery system, they go really, really quickly. It will be interesting to see what happens (under the first-come, first-served system)."

Last year, Hall said, she applied for 20 permits and received two. Her best summer, she received five, she said.

"There seems to be pretty high demand from a specific population," Reichenbach said.

In 2016, about 12,000 lottery applications were received for the Fall Lake and Moose Lake entry points, and about 4,200 were successful, she said. In 2012, by comparison, the Forest Service received about 7,200 applications for the permits, of which 3,800 were successful, she said.

"We're seeing this trend going upward," Reichenbach said.