BY: Citizens Count
Next week, a new bill will be introduced to the New Hampshire House. HB 1794, proposed by Rep. Jonathan Manley, “requires $1 from the rental of each canoe, kayak, ski craft, or watercraft … be remitted to the state from rental agents on a quarterly basis. All revenue would be credited to the Fish and Game search and rescue fund.”
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is responsible for hiking and water rescues and recoveries.
Current search and rescue funding
Currently, Fish and Game's search and rescue funding comes primarily through a $1 fee charged against motorized boat rentals and rentals of snowmobiles, ATVs and other off-highway recreational vehicles. Additional funding is provided by sales of the Hike Safe Card, which provides hikers with some insurance against the cost of a search and rescue.
However, these revenue sources haven't been enough to cover the costs Fish and Game rescues, which regularly top $300,000 a year, leaving the department to foot the rest of the bill out of its regular operating budget.
Other ideas for funding search and rescue
Charging a fee on kayak and other watercraft rentals is only one proposal being floated this year for supplementing the search and rescue fund.
Should kayakers and canoers be asked to contribute?
Supporters of HB 1794 argue it represents a fair way to share the burden of the costs of search and rescue, which otherwise fall disproportionately on motorboat and OHRV owners.
“[My bill] would give some money that would actually come from the people who make money on our state waterways, to send some of that back to the state so that when we do have a search and rescue situation, we would have funding for that.”
- Rep. Jonathan Manley, sponsor of HB 1794
Opponents point out that canoers and kayakers only require a fraction of search & rescue services—most of which involve hikers—and so should not be asked to foot the bill. Others argue that patching together funds from fees or card sales is the wrong approach entirely--that instead, money should be budgeted out of the state's general fund.
“[With] the search-and-rescue program, where it affects people from all walks of life that receive the services, we made the case that we feel that because of that, tax dollars should be paying for it. Much like a fire department or an ambulance squad.”
- Col. Kevin Jordan, chief of law enforcement for NH Fish and Game
Do you think canoers and kayakers have a right to enjoy New Hampshire’s water bodies free of cost? We want to hear your opinion below.