Illegal Motor Use in the BWCA

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Illegal Motor Use in the BWCA

Postby PaddlerJimmy » Sun Apr 08, 2007 7:31 pm

Staff reports - Cook County News Herald - 4/7/07

This week four conservation organizations released the results of a year-long study entitled “Wilderness Between the Cracks.” The report shows “a troubling pattern of motor use violations in the eastern part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).”
According to the report authored by Kevin Proescholdt, snowmobiles, ATVs, chain saws, and high horsepower outboards have all been used illegally in the BWCAW. Volunteers documented the violations with photos taken over several seasons from a variety of areas in the eastern BWCAW.
The report was written for the Izaak Walton League, North Star chapter of the Sierra Club, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and Wilderness Watch.
Motor use violations are documented for the border lakes and connecting portages, stairway portage, Daniels portage, Clearwater and Pine Lakes, Saganaga Lake, and North and South Fowl Lakes.
According to the report, investigation of illegal motor use began after the recent controversy over the Tilbury Trail, located between McFarland and North Fowl lakes near the end of the Arrowhead Trail north of Hovland, raised concerns for a number of wilderness conservation organizations.
“Our organizations became curious about the existence of other uses or activities within the eastern portion of the BWCAW that might also violate wilderness regulations,” the report reads. “We began to compile and document instances where such violations have recently occurred.”

The report acknowledges that law enforcement is difficult over such a large area and with few officers. Further complicating the wilderness law enforcement picture is the presence of U.S. Border Patrol agents along the international border. The USBP has been exempted from complying with many laws including the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act.
“As a result, Border Patrol officers can legally utilize snowmobiles and other motorized travel within the BWCAW. Some of the snowmobile tracks documented in this report may have come from Border Patrol activities, though we believe that illegal recreational snowmobile activity also occurs within the BWCAW,” according to the report.
The report is peppered with photos of alleged infractions that occurred in 2006 and are thought to depict areas of recurring violations.
The report addresses violations by snowmobiles, which leave the most obvious tracks evidence, as well as chain saw, motorboat and ATV activity.
Snowmobiles are prohibited throughout the BWCAW except for two short trails, particularly the Saganaga corridor to Canada. In the Vento Unit (Eastern Section), the U.S. portions of the international border lakes from South Lake eastward through Rat, Rose, Rove, Watap, Mountain, Moose, and the Fowl Lakes are closed to snowmobiles, as are the connecting portages.
These lakes are all located completely or partially within the BWCAW, except the Moose to North Fowl portage, which lies completely in Canada. The Forest Service has installed ‘No Snowmobiling”’ signs on a few of these portages but they do not appear to be working, according to the report.
Stairway Portage, located between Rose and Duncan lakes, is a popular portage situated well within the BWCAW. Snowmobiling is prohibited on this portage and on the lakes on either side of it. Yet photos document that snowmobiles have recently been riding up the stairway, scarring the rocks at the bottom and damaging the wooden steps.
Heavy snowmobile traffic is also evident on the Daniels Portage and Clearwater Lake and Pine Lake — these two lakes are wilderness lakes located near many cabins. According to the report, they both suffer from consistent snowmobile trespass in the BWCAW, despite signs put up by the Forest Service.
The 1978 Wilderness Act restricts snowmobiles to no more than 40-inches wide, and to only “those types of snowmobiles, motorboats and vehicles which had been in regular use” in the BWCAW prior to 1978.
The Forest Service does not seem to be enforcing the 40-inch rule on Saganaga where some snowmobiles may legally operate, the report states, plus “the rule is not mentioned in any Forest Service literature or on any of the signs and kiosks at the public landings on Saganaga.”

In summer, outboard horsepower limits are being violated on the Fowls as well as Saganaga, the report claims. Motorboat use on the Fowls is limited to no greater than 10 horsepower. “Numerous violations of the horsepower limits on North Fowl Lake have been documented.” This includes horsepower violations as well as removal or cover-up of markings on outboards.
In the Sag Corridor, the 25-horsepower law exists for the convenience of the Canadian cabin owners on Saganaga Lake — almost all of whom are Americans. This allows them to travel within the corridor with larger than 25-horsepower motors, as long as the larger motors are not used — typically mounted on the transom but tilted up.
The report cites many violations of this convenience. Towboat violations on Sag are also noted. ATVs have been documented in winter use throughout the wilderness more than in summer, and evidence of chainsaw use on some portages is also documented.
“The violations we have documented have degraded (the) wilderness character,” the report concludes. “Protecting the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness remains a common goal of the U.S. Forest Service and conservationists.
“Not only do the violations degrade the wilderness, but if not addressed in a timely manner, they can become established uses for local residents and businesses. People who over time begin to rely on established practices are understandably upset when they are eventually told that they are breaking the law and must stop.
“When this happens, local political pressure is often put on the Forest Service to replace the illegal use, often damaging the wilderness character of the BWCAW.”
Situations like the ones documented in the report “could be avoided if the Forest Service would consistently enforce the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act. The public would then know the rules.”
The author organizations state they and the USFS “collectively can do better to fulfill the promise of the 1964 Wilderness Act to preserve the area’s wilderness character, and to pass this wilderness legacy unimpaired to future generations.”
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Postby jackfish69 » Wed Jan 23, 2008 2:25 pm

Well I guess we should start crying because there are some snowmobile track in the snow or on the trail... It is pretty funny how all the skiers complain about these tracks, but then they tend to ski on them because the snow is packed down... Quit being so hypocritical about the whole issue... If you don't want them there then quit using them for an easier passage... :x
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Postby pierre » Fri Mar 21, 2008 5:31 am

Well heck yes! Might as well let in motors and pave all the portages. To call this a wilderness area anymore is already a misstatement of fact. Most serious canoists are already going other places - due to overuse.
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Postby finnbay » Sun Mar 23, 2008 10:36 am

Pierre,

I am in no way trying to justify what anyone has said here on either side. Nor am I advocating changes one way or the other as to the BWCA. I am just stating what I've seen through my travels. The definition of "wilderness" varies from person to person. I've been on several routes through the Quetico, where there are fewer permits allowed, and have come across trapper's cabins, foundations of camps and small organized villages (not sure if lumber camps or other), scrap metal, equipment left behind, portages and waterways with the bark and sawdust left behind from sawmills and spillways. It in no way spoiled my trip. Just the opposite. The sense of the history of logging intrigued me and to know what used to be here compared to what it looked like now in no way diminished my experience. What has bothered me in the Quetico, are some of the campsites where, because of lack of a latrine and either the laziness or from being uneducated, campers have left there piles or TP on top of the ground on the edge of camp. A couple of years ago I paddled 500 miles on the Albany River to James Bay. At times we were over 200 miles from the nearest village. In a busy year there are 10 groups that paddle this river. Most people would consider this "wilderness". Yet, there was evidence of people throughout the trip. Boats left on portages. Snowmobiles abandoned on the shorelines. Garbage piles on the back side of campsites. Cans, bottles, barrels at the high water mark along most of the river. Around Ft. Hope and Ogoki, we would see many of the First Nation members traveling with 16-foot Lunds and 50 HP motors or cargo canoes and kickers. Go to Mt. Everest (I haven't been there) but as I understand it, the area is cluttered with used oxygen bottles, abandoned camps and the bodies of climbers that are left where they fell. We've left garbage on the moon and at the bottom of the ocean. At both poles.

Again, I'm not defending this. I would prefer it to be something other. It is how it is. In our most pristine definitions of what we would like to think of as wilderness, there will always be evidence of man. We can strive to make it something other than that, but the reality is, we can never, as recreational enthusiasts, travel to a place where man has never been. To argue about a snowmobile track, IMO is moot. No matter what laws are passed, no matter how much we strive to educate every person on earth, we will not convince 100% "to leave no trace". Does seeing a snowmobile track in the BWCA ruin my "wilderness experience"? Absolutely not. I file it away as a "that's too bad that someone doesn't respect this part of the earth" and go on to enjoy an area that really is 100 times more pristine than than the remote "wilderness" areas that I have traveled.

Just a post script. When I was out for a walk I was just thinking about how people view "wilderness" differently. I managed a sporting goods store in Nebraska for awhile in the 70's. When customers found out that I was from Minnesota, they would tell me about their "wilderness" experiences way up in Minnesota in the Detroit Lakes and Alexandria area.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Postby pierre » Tue Apr 01, 2008 12:11 am

I am in no way trying to justify what anyone has said here on either side. Nor am I advocating changes one way or the other as to the BWCA. I am just stating what I've seen through my travels. The definition of "wilderness" varies from person to person. I've been on several routes through the Quetico, where there are fewer permits allowed, and have come across trapper's cabins, foundations of camps and small organized villages (not sure if lumber camps or other), scrap metal, equipment left behind, portages and waterways with the bark and sawdust left behind from sawmills and spillways. It in no way spoiled my trip. Just the opposite. The sense of the history of logging intrigued me and to know what used to be here compared to what it looked like now in no way diminished my experience.


I guess I have very little interest in logging history - because it is my history. Some of my ancestors logged from Maine to Minnesota, out to Oregon and I did some high line logging in Alaska - as well as logging pulp in Minnesota. Makes me sick. My grandfather grew up in a 13 mile by nine mile area of virgin white pine in what is now the BWCA near Parent Lake. He said there was no underbrush, just whtie pine. He thought it would never all be cut. In a couple of years it was gone. Not only was the white pine gone - the loggers would cut everything else around - under the misguided idea that they were creating farm land. Farmland! You can't even grow hay in the BWCA! They would cut and stack all the cedar, birch, maple - everything but the white pine they were after, and burn it. What a waste!

Where we logged in Alaska, you could still see cuts made in 1911. It doesn't grow back. I'm not completely anti-logging. I don't like using leaves for toilet paper - at least not year round - but it would have been nice if we could have left a little more of that virgin timber.
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Postby finnbay » Tue Apr 01, 2008 11:26 am

Thanks for posting pierre,

I respect what you say, and in many ways agree with you. I, too come from a logging background - as well as mining. In another part of the forum there is a photo of my great-grandfather standing on a log in the Bigfork River working as a river pig. My other grandfather immigrated from Finland to work in the mines here, as well as my father. As I was growing up, my Dad would be laid off from the beginning of November until the end of April, and piece-cutting (of which I helped him) was the only way he had to put food on the table for my family. Yes, I would have loved if the forestry practices of yesteryear would have allowed for more stands and acreage of virgin timber. I do take exception to the idea that much of this forest was cut down for farmland. While there may be some small acreages where this was the case, a 13 mile by 9 mile tract wasn't cut down for the family farm. The timber barons took most of that timber back out east in the form of lumber.

My point, rather than waste a lot of energy on what has happened that cannot be changed, focus that energy on something that might make a difference for the future - carbon emissions, alternative energy sources, acid rain. In the mean time, I'd much prefer to enjoy the time spent in the BWCA. It might not be the virgin white pine of yesteryear, but it is a whole sight better than living in the city.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Postby pierre » Thu Apr 03, 2008 12:32 pm

finnbay wrote:Thanks for posting pierre,

I respect what you say, and in many ways agree with you. I, too come from a logging background - as well as mining. In another part of the forum there is a photo of my great-grandfather standing on a log in the Bigfork River working as a river pig. My other grandfather immigrated from Finland to work in the mines here, as well as my father. As I was growing up, my Dad would be laid off from the beginning of November until the end of April, and piece-cutting (of which I helped him) was the only way he had to put food on the table for my family. Yes, I would have loved if the forestry practices of yesteryear would have allowed for more stands and acreage of virgin timber. I do take exception to the idea that much of this forest was cut down for farmland. While there may be some small acreages where this was the case, a 13 mile by 9 mile tract wasn't cut down for the family farm. The timber barons took most of that timber back out east in the form of lumber.

My point, rather than waste a lot of energy on what has happened that cannot be changed, focus that energy on something that might make a difference for the future - carbon emissions, alternative energy sources, acid rain. In the mean time, I'd much prefer to enjoy the time spent in the BWCA. It might not be the virgin white pine of yesteryear, but it is a whole sight better than living in the city.


My g-grandfather was a River Pig, and later had his own logging camp with 200 men in NE MN. He was put out of business by Alger-Smith who refused to honor a timber contract in 1918.

Obviously the white pine wasn't cut to create farm land. It was everything else they cut with that idea in mind
("I'm only repeating what my grandfather told me - he was there, and it bothered him - even at that time).

As to the BWCA being preferable to living in the city - I definitely agree.
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