ST. PAUL -- After a surge of visitors brought an increase in litter and damage to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness last year, officials are taking steps to head off similar problems this year.

The Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota announced Friday, Jan. 15, that because of the pandemic, it once again will offer alternatives to issuing wilderness permits in-person. But in a change from last year, it'll require people acquiring their permit online to watch three leave-no-trace education videos and review BWCAW rules before they receive their permit.

"Last season saw unprecedented visitation to the BWCAW and along with that an unacceptably high amount of resource damage, including cutting of live trees, human waste not being properly disposed, trash left in campfire rings, disruptive and oversized groups, and campfires left unattended," Forest Service officials said in a news release.

"It takes a commitment from everyone visiting these treasured lands to ensure that the lakes, waterways and forests of the BWCAW are protected against resource damage, so the wilderness character is preserved for future generations."

In the past, campers had to watch a leave-no-trace video at a ranger station or at their outfitter, and pass a quiz on BWCAW rules before beginning their trip.

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That went away last summer amid social-distancing concerns during the pandemic, even as visitation soared — and Forest Service officials said that might be a reason for the increased damage seen in the wilderness.

People seeking a permit who don't have internet access will need to contact the Superior National Forest to complete the leave-no-trace education requirement.

BWCAW quota permit reservations for 2021 are available starting at 9 a.m. Jan. 27. More information can be found here.