CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Hikers and others rescued in New Hampshire’s backwoods could pay several hundred dollars in fees to help dig the state’s search and rescue fund out of the red.
The idea got mixed reviews at a public hearing Thursday on a bill that could come to the aid of a search and rescue account that’s averaged an annual deficit of more than $100,000 since 2006.
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett, Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, are among the high-profile sponsors looking for ways to help pay for searches and rescues besides fees paid by sportsmen.
“Unfortunately the people who are paying into the rescue fund are not taking the biggest advantage of it,” Chandler told the House Fish and Game Committee.
“The people who come here and hike bear some responsibility,” added D’Allesandro.
Hunters, anglers, boaters, snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle riders currently pay 100 percent of the rescue costs though license fees to the Department of Fish and Game but averaged only 14 percent of the rescues since 2006.
Anyone rescued who possesses a current hunting, fishing or other outdoors license or buys a new hike safe card for $18 would not pay the minimum fee. The proposal also would establish a $10 surcharge on fines for fish and game law violations to go into the fund.
The minimum fee facing those rescued would be $350 if the rescue cost between $500 and $999. The fee rises to $600 if the rescue costs between $1,000 and $1,499.
For rescues costing more, the fee would be $1,000.
Recent rescue costs ranged from about $200 to more than $50,000, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
Chandler and other sponsors said the account’s deficit could grow dramatically now that the New Hampshire National Guard has been told by its command in Washington to charge the state for its role in rescues. The Guard had covered the costs of using its helicopters and staff in the past with its training budget.