A New Hampshire law enacted this past July aims to make people responsible for costs associated with heading into the woods unprepared or under the influence.
The new law gives the state more power over who they decide to fine. Previously, the state had to prove someone acted recklessly before charging a hiker for repayment for a rescue. This meant the state had to show the hiker or hikers were aware going into the woods posed a substantial risk but they did it anyway. Now the state only has to prove the person was negligent.
The law states: “Any person determined by the department to have acted negligently in requiring a search and rescue response by the department shall be liable to the department for the reasonable cost of the department’s expenses for such search and rescue response.”
The state Department of Fish and Game currently fines lost hikers who recklessly venture into the woods to pay for the cost of the rescue, but now the department will have the power to revoke the driver’s licenses of those who don’t pay. Hikers can also lose licenses with the state Health and Human Services Department, and hunting and fishing licenses.
Karl Stone of Ski New Hampshire said that very few skiers at the state’s alpine resorts have been involved in backcountry mishaps, as most have involved hikers and other backcountry users on hiking trails on public lands around the state.
From 2004 to the end of 2007, the state spent more than $1 million and devoted about 14,900 hours to rescue 725 people, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. Of those victims, 28 percent were rescued in 2007. Those 2007 rescues cost the department more than $257,000 on rescue operations and for the first time, the department ended the year with a deficit in its search and rescue account.
Over the past decade, the state has had little success in recovering costs from reckless hikers. Fifteen people or groups repaid the state $23,780, less than half what the Fish and Game Department says it paid for their rescues.
The universal use of cellphones and availability of GPS systems give many nature-lovers visiting wilderness areas a sense of control. But these devices do not protect one from the elements nor even necesarily mean a quick rescue.
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs reports that in Colorado some municipalities and special taxing districts have billed victims for some expenses related to their rescue. The DOLA does not know of any volunteer search and rescue teams which have billed a victim for costs the team has incurred. In all cases, the Colorado Search and Rescue Fund attempts to reimburse on all eligible expenses to prevent billing of victims.