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New funding for search and rescue?

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This year the New Hampshire Legislature will consider several bills to change how the state funds search and rescue operations.

Current search and rescue system

In New Hampshire, the state Fish and Game Department is responsible for search and rescue missions. Other local agencies, private organizations, and volunteer groups help the Fish and Game's Specialized Search and Rescue Team.

There are three funding sources for search and rescue operations:

  • $1 of every boat, OHRV, and ATV registration (about $200,000 per year)
  • The $25 Hike Safe Card, which protects hikers from some liability for costs if they require a rescue (about $100,000 per year)
  • The ability to bill reckless hikers for the cost of a rescue (varies)

Click here to learn more about the debate over hiker rescue funding, including the Hike Safe Card.

Problems with the search and rescue system

For the past several years, the Search and Rescue Fund has fallen short by about $150,000.

The Search and Rescue Fund also faces criticism for relying primarily on boat, OHRV, and ATV users, although they represent less than one-seventh of all rescues.

Bills to change search and rescue funding

  • Rep. Michael Brewster is sponsoring SB 1390, a 2018 bill that would send a portion of meals and rooms tax revenue to the Search and Rescue Fund.
  • Rep. Jonathan Manley is sponsoring HB 1794, a 2018 bill that would add a $1 fee to every canoe, kayak, and waterski rental for the Search and Rescue Fund.
  • Sen. Lou D'Allesandro is sponsoring SB 410, a 2018 bill that would add a $10 annual registration fee for canoes and kayaks.  $3.50 of that $10 would go to the Search and Rescue Fund.
  • Rep. Tom Buco is taking a different approach with HB 1726, a 2018 bill that would allow cities and towns to bill the state for helping with search and rescue missions.

In recent years the state has also debated funding search and rescue from the general fund of all tax revenue, but legislators rejected those proposals.

How do you think the state should fund search and rescue operations? Let us know in the comments below.


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I am strongly opposed to SB 410, as I think its going to create a lot of problems. Who is going to enforce the registration of canoes and kayaks? What will happen if someone from out of state wants to canoe or kayak in NH? What about people from out of state who have vacation homes in NH? And what does the other $6.50 from the $10/boat registration fee fund? Why would $3.50 from canoe and kayak registrations go to SAR but only $1 of every boat, OHRV, and ATV registration? How many flatwater recreational paddlers are requiring SAR services anyway?

I also think the Hike Safe card as it is currently implemented is garbage. I purchased them for myself and my partner one year, but in NH only those considered negligent or reckless get billed for their rescues anyway (which is a good thing). So basically the Hike Safe Card is a $25 "get out of jail free card" because if you aren't reckless, you aren't going to get billed for your rescue but if you are reckless you will unless you have a Hike Safe card. The Hike Safe Card is basically permission to be reckless for $25; you don't benefit from having one if you are a responsible outdoors person to begin with. The concept behind having some sort of backcountry "rescue insurance" as a way of generating revenue for SAR is a good one, but a program needs to be designed that will benefit people who would be eligible for such assistance. Right now the Hike Safe Card only benefits reckless backcountry users.

Also, when I purchased the Hike Safe Card, I was not able to purchase a family card for my partner and I even though we live together and share the same address, split bills, and have a dog together. We can get a joint gym membership, joint cell phone plan, and by many other regards are considered a family and can benefit from splitting costs, but not by way of the card. According to the website "For purposes of purchasing a family card, families shall include the hike safe cardholder, his or her legal spouse, and his or her minor children and minor stepchildren as of the date of purchase." - so basically a married couple can have seven kids and stepkids covered under a $35 card but I need to purchase a separate card for my partner and I. NH needs to get with the times and expand its definition of family - if they want to generate money from a printed out piece of paper, they need to make it have value and be accessible to people who might want it.

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