BWCA Lottery System- What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Necessarily Good for the Gander

     We can take the popular saying, "What’s good for the goose is good for the gander" and substitute a couple of words to make it apply to the current BWCA permit lottery change.  What’s good for the "USFS" isn’t necessarily good for the "BWCA Cooperators."  On the other hand not all Boundary Waters outfitters can agree on what’s good for anything so it should come as no surprise not everyone thinks eliminating the BWCA lottery is a good idea.

     At the end of September the Gunflint and Tofte District outfitters met for an end of the year BWCA Cooperator meeting in Grand Marais.  Among the topics that came up was ending the BWCA Lottery which has been a confusing concept since its inception.

     According to one outfitter at the meeting the term "lottery" should have never been chosen to describe the permit process for the BWCA.  The term caused the public to believe if they hadn’t submitted a permit application in the lottery then they were not able to visit the BWCA that year.  The permit process prior to the computer era involved taking all of the permit applications received over the winter and throwing them into a box until there was staff on board to process the applications.  Reservations were randomly pulled out of the box and processed one at a time in order for it to be a "fair" system for all users.

   In essence it was a pre-application period where folks who knew their dates could submit their reservation requests ahead of time.  While the most popular dates and entry points for overnight canoe camping trips into the BWCA may fill up quicker than others the vast majority of the entry points have plenty of permits left after the lottery.  Many believe the lottery causes a situation where people submit way more permit applications then they are planning to use just in case they do not get their first choice or because they do not have their vacation dates secured yet.  Since immediate results are not known they overbook permits in the "hopes" of winning the "lottery".

     The lottery hasn’t been necessary for the Gunflint District because there are always plenty of permits available long after the lottery.  Even as an outfitter we rarely submitted applications to the lottery because of the lack of an immediate confirmation.  However, outfitters over in Ely, MN feel much differently because of the high demand for permits. 

     Perhaps if outfitters in the BWCA were alotted their own quota like in other wilderness areas the lottery would not be an issue.  Or if the USFS could resolve the Chain of Lakes issue that allows homeowners and cabin owners access to the lakes they are on then the lottery may not be such an issue for outfitters and resort owners.  

      To the outfitters at the meeting in Grand Marais the idea of eliminating the lottery didn’t sound like a bad idea but to the outfitters in Ely it created an uproar.  Maybe the outfitters in the Gunflint Trail District are the goose in this instance and the outfitters in Ely are the gander?  Whatever the case, "What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily always good for the gander."