Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Phil Brown: More on Charging for Rescues

Stephen Mastaitis after rescue on Mount Marcy.A series of searches in the High Peaks last winter sparked a debate over whether careless hikers should be charged for the cost of rescuing them.

The Adirondack Almanack published several posts on the subject, including one by me in which I argued against charging hikers. Thinking the public would like to hear other opinions, I later assigned a reporter, Kelly de la Rocha, to look into the issue for Adirondack Explorer.

Tony Goodwin, editor of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook, thinks fining hikers in cases of gross carelessness might be a deterrent. “As long as we accept the fact that we want to encourage people to use the backcountry, there are going to be accidents that have to be dealt with and there are going to be people who are unprepared, but perhaps the most grossly unprepared, unknowledgeable ones can suffer some consequences that perhaps [would] give pause for others,” he said.Neil Woodworth, the club’s executive director, contends that a fine would be out of place if a rescue were necessitated by an accident. In cases of extreme negligence, he suggests that hikers be forced to pay a fee for a mandatory backcountry-education course.

New Hampshire is one of several states that do charge for rescues, if the hiker is deemed at fault. Kevin Jordan of that state’s Fish and Game Department rebutted suggestions that the policy scares away tourists or deters people in trouble from seeking help. “We’re getting calls just as frequently as we always did,” he said.

Jordan said rescues can cost $1,000 to $60,000. From 2006 to 2011, the department billed for thirty-eight rescues, a total of $83,000. It has collected a little over $53,000 of the money owed.

You can read the full story in the Explorer (and the comments) by clicking here.

Photo: Stephen Mastaitis, with his wife Jane, following his rescue on Mount Marcy.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

10 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    In Europe skiers and hikers routinely purchase rescue insurance and all rescues (including inbound, lift serviced skiing) are billed. It hasn’t been an obstacle to outdoor recreation there and it keeps costs and taxes lower for those who don’t need rescue. Back country skiers on Federal land are billed for rescues in the US.

  2. Bob says:

    So we should billing the Gillis family? The cost on that is well into the 6 figs. Lets get real people. Help thy fellow Man.

  3. Mike Caffrey says:

    What a blockheaded idea. If you want to see the back country vacated charge the first person and see what happens. Hazardous back country and mountains is what you are blessed with. If it is a greedy political sub division looking for more money to pad their egregious pensions and benefit packages, then take them out of the loop and use a pure volunteer basis. With the amount of taxes NY state and the counties/towns rape workers and property owners for, I think they can handle a handful of rescues each year.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    What about those who take a long walk into the woods with the hope of never being found?
    You know, with the cost of funerals, this is an inexpensive option and it has the advantage of naturally providing nourishment to plants and animals

  5. Jane says:

    You could use the same argument for ambulance calls…don’t charge people for using this service. Having managed public lands where staff risked life and limb to perform high-angle rescues of folks who chose to rock climb, I have to come down on the side of charging people who use these services.

    Seeing staff have to give up their career because of permanent injuries they sustained in trying to extricate climbers (and others who thought they could climb without ropes), they end up paying a very high price for others pursuit of thrill seeking.

    Governmental agencies end up spending large amounts of money buying highly specialized equipment to perform these rescues, which places a huge financial burden on them.

    There are no easy answers, but most people finding themselves in those situations want the very best equipment and in place to rescue them. In return they should be happy to pay for those services as needed.

  6. Paul says:

    If you don’t get injured and just get lost it is always your fault.

    “If you want to see the back country vacated charge the first person and see what happens.”

    Mike, I agree that it is probably a bad idea. But it looks like it has not had the effect that you suggest in HN.

    The problem is that here in NY you would spend years and thousands of extra dollars just trying to collect the money once the lawyers got wind of a case. Good luck. It looks like NH has done alright in that regard. But maybe they did not include the legal costs fighting over the payments that they did and have not yet gotten.

  7. ADKinLA says:

    I gave some thought to this awhile ago and looking at all the competing arguments http://www.eastwesthike.com/2011/04/charge-me.html

    there should not be a charge for rescue services, it is the cost of doing outside business and does serve a purpose by helping keep rescuers on top of their game.

    However, I think someone who uses recklessly uses the SPOT emergency devices should be charged. The example is a group of hikers in the Grand Canyon who used SPOT several time to call rescuers and refused rescue but only wanted water! Since the rescuers don’t know the situation when the SPOT is activated, there should be charges when mobilized in a situation like that.

  8. Paul says:

    I do worry that we are becoming too dependent on things like cell phones and other devices like you describe ADKinLA. It sends folks out with a false sense of security. I guess the same could be said about the existence of the rescue crews in general.

  9. RC says:

    I agree with Mark. The European model has worked for years. Charging for services is an accepted way of life.

  10. Phil says:

    Western states have been charging for years if you do not have a hunting or fishing license. It seems like it would be a good way to raise funds for wildlife and would be cheap insurance. There is also a lot more than a handful of rescues each year.