BY: Citizens Count
A commission is studying funding options for the NH Fish and Game Department, which has been struggling over the last several years to cover the costs of search and rescue missions of lost and injured hikers.
The State of New Hampshire spends about $350,000 annually on rescues. The costs of search and rescue of hikers average in the thousands of dollars per rescue and there are as many as 200 each year. Some search-and-rescues take a few hours, others can last several days.
Fish and Game officials can attempt to recoup the cost of a rescue if the actions of the hiker are deemed negligent. Fish and Game also gets revenue from the sale of a Hike Safe Card. Created in 2015, the card protects the hiker from being billed for rescue. A dollar fee is also collected off each powerboat, snowmobile and off-road vehicle registration. All that totals about $250,000 a year.
Other attempts in the Legislature to generate funds for rescues – including a proposed licensing fee for kayaks and canoes or through the rooms and meals tax – have failed.
The commission studying the issue notes that 47 percent of hiker rescues occur in the White Mountain National Forest, which is federal government land.
According to Col. Kevin Jordan, chief of law enforcement at Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service already pays for local law enforcement to patrol their properties. The commission felt if the U.S. Forest Service is paying for patrols, they should also pay for search and rescue operations on federal land.
Opponents to the proposal say the government shouldn’t be paying for the risks taken by individuals and that the hikers should be footing the bill themselves through direct payment or through some kind of insurance, similar to programs established in Europe. Others express concern that if the U.S. government agrees to pay for rescues on federal land in New Hampshire, every other state will want the same deal, which will raise federal spending.