Chain of Lakes

     Some of you may not know anything about the Chain of Lakes Issue.  This is mainly an FYI but you may need some background information for it to even make sense.  We live on the Seagull RIver which flows directly into Saganaga Lake.  Voyageur was here before it was the Boundary Waters and when it became the Boundary Waters certain things were promised and written into the law.  I guess the law allows for interpretation because in 1993 when we purchased Voyageur we, along with all of our neighbors on the Seagull River, could take a boat and motor onto Sag without having to purchase and reserve a travel permit.  We were exempt from the day use quota as were our guests and our neighbors.  This was what the law intended and what was promised to the residents when the residents agreed to cooperate and allow the creation of the BWCA.  Cabins and resorts within the wilderness were closed, property was purchased by the USFS, land trades were made so some residents could keep property in the area and so on and so forth.  People gave things up but were promised things in return. 

     Then someone decided to read the law over and over again looking for a loophole.  These people didn’t have property on the said Chain of Lakes, probably had never visited the Chain of Lakes or talked to any of the people who were promised these things from the beginning.  They just decided they didn’t like what was promised and didn’t want there to be  boats and motors or as many boats and motors on the few lakes in the BWCA that allowed motors.  So, they did what it seems like everyone does these days, they sued the USFS.  They got a judge who had probably never even heard of the Boundary Waters or any of the residents on the Chain of Lakes and he took away what was given to the residents during the creation of the BWCA.  So, we are no longer exempt and neither are our neighbors and this has been for quite some time.

     When they took the exempt status away from people on the Chain of Lakes the USFS had to adjust the day use quota to allow for the motor use that there once was.  This of course wasn’t easy because there weren’t clear records of the actual use because these people didn’t need permits to begin with.  Residents and businesses were asked about their use and the USFS estimated the number of permits to add onto the existing quota.  Then the USFS got sued again by the same people because they didn’t like that number either.  They just don’t like boats and motors on Saganaga even though there wouldn’t have been a Boundary Waters without the sacrifice made by these property owners in the first place. 

     Sorry this isn’t a short story, or explanation.    This happened over by Ely too.  Homeowners and businesses on these lakes have to reserve permits and pay for these permits in order to travel on their lakes.  The number of lawsuits has been many and the USFS has been tied up in court by these people instead of being out in the wilderness where they should be.  They are spending money and time defending themselves instead of improving the Boundary Waters we all love.  In any case, the Conservationists with Common Sense have written this brief and are asking for this to be resolved sooner rather than later.

For over 20 years, the U.S. Forest Service had determined in several decisions and management plans, that property owners and their guests on the affected chains of lakes were not required to obtain a permit to use the entire lake chains, not just the first lake in the chain. The chains of lakes had been viewed as continuous bodies of water. 

The Friends of the Boundary Waters took the case to the appeals court, whose 1999 ruling re-interpreted the 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act, Public Law 95-495 – 4(f) … That on each lake homeowners and their guests and resort owners and their guests on that particular lake shall have access to that particular lake (the first lake of the chain) and their entry shall not be counted in determining such use.  

With the 1999 court ruling, the USFS determined that the permit system needed to be adjusted to account for the addition of the formerly exempt property owners into the equation. The USFS recognized that the permit system had become dysfunctional when they were forced to include the previously exempt parties into the quota system, originally designed for parties that were not property owners or their guests. 

The court’s opinion directs and empowers the USFS to recalculate current quota cap levels that were to be based on the actual use during a base year period in the 1970’s as spelled out by the 1978 BWCAW Act. The court ruled that the current permit cap levels and a USFS first attempt at adjusting these quotas were not consistent with the BWCAW law.  

Quota levels are currently set at a level which does not count the use of the homeowners, resort owners, and their guests on the affected lakes in the original cap numbers. The original numbers were compiled prior to the 1978 law, and at that time did not include any of this use since the USFS considered all of this use "exempt" from permits. This use accounted for a large portion of the actual use, thus creating the need for the USFS to include this use in their quota cap. 


The ruling also directs the USFS to work towards correcting these incorrect numbers "at the earliest practicable time" and to include groups such as, "…Conservationists with Common Sense (CWCS) and other affected parties in the rule making process."  These affected parties look forward to working with the Forest Service to correct the currently dysfunctional system as quickly as possible so that the law and intent of the law is upheld.


We are still waiting for the Forest Service to resolve this inadequate permit situation on the Chain of Lakes.