A massive failure of the U.S. Forest Service’s online reservation system Wednesday morning left potential users with complete frustration and no permits for the upcoming season.
The computer system by Recreation.gov crashed immediately after permits became available at 9 a.m. The Forest Service decided this year to not have a lottery for motor use permits on lakes like Basswood which are in high demand.
“This is going to be devastating to individuals and resort owners,” said Nancy McReady of Conservationists With Common Sense. “We asked where the public input was at the public meeting. We told them there was going to be problems. This is a major cluster you know what.”
While front office personnel in Ely were swamped with phone calls and unhappy customers, District Range Gus Smith told outfitters at 9:45 a.m., “I know it is very frustrating and I don’t have much to tell you and certainly nothing that can help. We do know that other areas are experiencing issues as well. The contractors are working on it.”
The Forest Service announced shortly after 10 a.m. that the whole system was shut down.
“We will reverse all internal and external transactions of course for fairness and close BWCAW reservations until further notice,” said Ann Schwaller, Natural Resources Program Manager at the Superior Forest Supervisor’s Office in Duluth.
“We are sick over it as well. A ton of work has gone into this; including working through furlough. We’ve done all we can to prepare and follow national direction,” said Schwaller.
Outfitters peppered the Forest Service with questions on people who had been able to get permits and could show up this summer not knowing their permit was deleted.
“At this time, we are working with the contractor to make sure all of those visitors will get a follow-up email saying that their reservations will be reversed and why. As horrible as that sounds, it must obviously be done,” said Schwaller.
The response in Ely was immediate. While people didn’t directly blame the local Kawishiwi District office personnel, reports were over 300 people called in the first hour.
“The USFS BWCA permit system crashed and they are shutting it down because they can’t issue BWCA permits for this summer at this point. Since they tossed the lottery for day-use motor permits, there was such a rush it appears, their computers broke,” said Joe Baltich of Northwind Lodge in an online post.
“If you were planning on taking a motor trip to Basswood this summer, you probably won’t be going with a proper permit. I’m sure the Friends of the Boundary Waters are cheering right about now,” said Baltich.
For Bob LaTourell of LaTourell’s Moose Lake Resort and Moose Lake Canoe Trip Outfitters, he wasn’t able to get a single permit on Wednesday. His business depends on those permits.
“I’ve very frustrated that the failure was allowed to happen. We had major concerns with their systems and they were never considered and they were confirmed yesterday.
“Our guests are furious. I find it interesting the Forest Service said the lottery system wasn’t needed because of low demand yet is was high enough to crash their system
Geography may have played a role in the snafu on Wednesday. People in Ely struggled to even get the website to show them how many permits were available.
“I’m assuming because we have a poor internet connection we couldn’t get as far as other people,” said Newt Nickerson of Ely. “I talked to someone in Arizona who got eight permits and had no problem getting them. When I went to the Forest Service office in Ely I was told that’s nothing, someone in Ohio got 10.”
Nickerson was left not knowing what would happen but he said there is only one logical solution.
“At this point it should be a lottery. There’s no other way it can be fair,” said Nickerson.
For BWCA user Bob Jalonen, he decided to steer away from the online route and called the reservation system on the phone at 9:02 a.m.
“All of my circle of buddies were applying online and none could get on via computer. I got on the phone and got in the queue where I was told it’ll be about 34 minutes. I got on at 50 minutes and talked to a human voice,” said Jalonen.
“She took down all of my information for a motor permit for Fall Lake and beyond. Then she told me she was going to put me on hold to enter it all into the computer. I thought she was doing that while we were talking. She came back on and said, ‘Sorry!’”