CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The recent rescue of a 5-year-old New Hampshire girl missing in the woods for six hours highlights the role Fish and Game conservation officers play and underscores why the division routinely outspends its search-and-rescue budget.
The search came just ahead of what is traditionally the busiest time of year for search and rescue missions — when bugs subside, foliage lures droves of hikers, hunters take to the woods and sub-freezing temperatures descend on mountain peaks.
“To say they’re busy is an understatement,” Maj. Kevin Jordan said of the 45 conservation officers who undertake search and rescue missions statewide. “We end up by mid-September triaging calls.”
Fish and Game is self-funded, with its revenues coming largely from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and boat, snowmobile and ATV registrations. The agency’s annual search and rescue fund — which averages about $180,000 — is based on a $2 contribution from each registration sold. And it’s never enough.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the cost of search and rescue missions was $263,000.
Just after 7 p.m. on Sept. 8, rescuers found 5-year-old Eleanor Coutermarsh, of Brookline, about a mile from where she was last seen playing with other children in a wooded area of Gilmanton. The temperature dropped into the 30s later that night.
The search was over in about six hours, but not before seven conservation officers combed the woods, a Massachusetts State Police helicopter was deployed, state police and search dogs were brought in and trained volunteers joined the search. Jordan said that he hasn’t yet tallied the cost of that search and that it’s not the first priority.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Fish and Game Lt. Jim Juneau said of her rescue. “We’d still be out there. That’s the way that we would play it.”