New Hampshire’s Search and Rescue Problem

Contact: Joe Bachar, New England States Coordinator

  • On some occasions, individual or groups that become injured or stranded while enjoying the outdoors may find themselves in need of search and rescue (SAR) operations to bring them back to safety.
  • SAR efforts are normally conducted by state agencies, volunteer groups, or a combination of the two working together.
  • States that utilize sportsmen-generated dollars to fund these operations may see a significant loss in revenue that is traditionally used for wildlife management or conservation projects.
  • Roughly a half-decade ago, through coordinated efforts between the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, and New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the state instituted a voluntary program, or “Hike Safe Card,” that allows outdoor enthusiasts to contribute to SAR funding while providing a form of insurance against financial liability for rescue costs.

Why It Matters: Search and rescue (SAR) operation funding varies state-by-state, but for those in which sportsmen-generated dollars are used to cover the associated costs, the result is a loss in funding otherwise designated towards conservation and wildlife management. States with more remote areas that are difficult to access may accumulate significant costs as a result of the equipment and personnel required to conduct SAR operations. States are encouraged to explore alternate methods of funding for SAR crews in order to prevent their respective fish and wildlife agencies from being financially strapped after SAR operations.

Over the last several years, an increasing number of people have discovered, or rediscovered, their love of the outdoors and our shared sporting traditions. The COVID-19 pandemic inspired many new outdoor enthusiasts to spend more time outdoors. Unfortunately, in some instances, those who are untrained, unprepared, or inexperienced with the outdoors found themselves in need of search and rescue (SAR) efforts to aid them in dire situations. Recent news stemming out of New England is full of reports of rescue missions that are being conducted as more individuals head afield and find themselves in need of assistance.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) Department conducts an average of 180 SAR missions each year, with incidents increasing through time, Many of the SAR operations the Department conducts are for non-sportsmen (hikers, paddlers, cross country skiers, etc.). In years past, this life saving service provided by the NHFG Department was completely reliant on the sportsmen-generated dollars which covered the high costs associated with the operations, including machinery, climbing gear, and personnel hours. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, NHFG coordinated more than a thousand search missions, at an average annual cost of $360,000, a price tag so staggering that it often caused NHFG to tap the dwindling Fish and Game Fund. 

New Hampshire is one of several states that have implemented an option for hikers to contribute to SAR operation funding on a voluntary, annual basis. For relatively low cost, individuals or families engaged in outdoor recreation can purchase a “Hike Safe Card”, of which the profits will go towards SAR operation funding. Additionally, cardholders are not required to repay rescue costs in the instance that the require rescuing. In 2017, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was instrumental in working alongside the New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and NHFG Department in implementing this initiative.

Several other states have similar programs with slight variations. It is important for other states to look to states like New Hampshire to ensure the critical conservation funding is not being exhausted on SAR missions, and in so doing, to protect the integrity of sportsmen-generated dollars through the American System of Conservation Funding.

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