Should the state bill lost hikers for rescue efforts?
By: LFDA Editor
In 2008, NH passed a ‘negligent hiker law’ allowing the state to bill lost hikers the cost of the rescue mission. Proponents believe irresponsible hikers should bear the financial toll of their actions, while opponents fear the law will deter people from calling for help.
In April 2009, state rescue teams spent three days searching for an Eagle Scout stranded on Mount Washington. While he was later billed $25,000 for a helicopter and labor provided by state fish and game officers, the state eventually gave up efforts to recoup the money.
The issue prompted the 2011 N.H. Legislature to pass SB 128
, which created a study committee to answer the question: Who should pay when state authorities carry out search and rescue operations for lost or injured hikers?
The study committee reported its findings
Nov. 1, 2011. The committee recommended several ways to raise funds for search and rescue. Recommendations included increasing Fish and Game fines by $10, establishing flat fees for the rescue of individuals who do not have proof of a valid hunting/fishing license, OHRV/ATV or boat registration, and creating a "Hike Safe Card." The "Hike Safe Card" would cost $18 and guarantee that a hiker would not be billed for rescue unless proved negligent.
Those who support the committee's recommendations point out the difficulty of recouping costs from negligent hikers, and the grave need for additional search and rescue funding. Supporters also note that under the current system hikers do not contribute any money to the search and rescue fund, even though hikers are more likely than hunters, fishermen, etc., to call for help.
Opponents argue that the a new system still would not provide enough revenue to fill the funding gap for search and rescues. Opponents, including many search and rescue volunteers, have also expressed concern that the system would discourage individuals from calling for help when it is needed.
In January 2013 House Minority Leader Gene Chandler
(R-Bartlett) introduced HB 256
, a bill that would establish a minimum flat fee for search and rescue, unless the individual rescued possesses a current hunting or fishing license, an OHRV, snowmobile, or boat registration, or a voluntary "Hike Safe Card" issued by the department.
The House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee decided to wait to act on the bill until the 2014 legislative session.