Those who obtain the cards will not be liable to repay rescue costs if they need to be rescued due to negligence on their part, regardless of whether they are hiking, boating, cross country skiing, hunting, or engaging in any other outdoor activity. It is important to note that people may still be liable for response expenses if they are deemed to be reckless or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response. The card will cover the calendar year from the date and time of purchase. A family is considered the cardholder, spouse and minor children.
Individuals who possess any valid New Hampshire hunting or fishing license, or a current registration for an off-highway recreational vehicle, snowmobile or boat, will also be exempt from repaying rescue costs due to negligence.
Cards will be available for purchase only through the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s license sales website (visit http://www.wildnh.com and click on “Buy a license online”). There is no actual card – purchase information can be printed out by the consumer or saved as a pdf on a smart phone.
Funds raised through sale of the hike safe cards will go to Fish and Game’s Search and Rescue Fund, with the exception of a $3 transaction fee going to the automated issuing system vendor.
It is not yet clear how much revenue the voluntary card will raise for the department, or the potential decrease in revenue that may be associated with not being allowed to pursue reimbursement for related search and rescue responses. In recent years (2011-2013), Fish and Game has conducted an average of about 180 search and rescue missions each year.
“Being voluntary, it’s too soon to say how much revenue the card will generate. It will contribute some revenue to the Search and Rescue Fund going forward, however, which is an important start,” said Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau.
Under State Law, the Fish and Game Department can pursue reimbursement for rescue costs if the person rescued is deemed to have acted negligently. In practice, it has proven difficult to recoup costs in this way.
The Search and Rescue dedicated fund is supported by a $1 fee collected for each boat, snowmobile and OHRV registered in New Hampshire. That typically brings in upwards of $180,000 a year. Over the last several years, annual Search and Rescue expenditures ($350,000+) have exceeded revenues, causing a resulting deficit in the Fish and Game Fund.
Normandeau acknowledged that the actual cost of search and rescue far exceeds Fish and Game’s outlay if all the manpower provided by volunteers is taken into consideration. That doesn’t even touch on the amount each volunteer pays for his/her own training, certifications, equipment and time lost from work.
Normandeau also pointed out that, while expected to generate some revenue, the hike safe card does not alleviate the Fish and Game Department’s wider funding crisis.
“The card is a step in the right direction, creating a means for the broader public that relies on Fish and Game services to help pay for those services, but it is not a cure-all. The deficit in the Search and Rescue Fund contributes to a larger funding dilemma that Fish and Game faces,” explained Normandeau.
“Without an additional revenue source or supplemental funding from the state in the new biennial budget, the Fish and Game Fund is expected to be depleted by the end of the current Fiscal Year,” he continued. “This would seriously compromise the Department’s ability to deliver essential fish, wildlife and boating access-related services to the public.”
Learn more about Fish and Game’s funding situation at http://www.wildnh.com/funding.