As inexperienced hikers venture into the wilderness during the pandemic, some states are charging them for the cost of rescues.
The pandemic has led to a wave of inexperienced hikers venturing outside, which in turn has increased the pressure on search and rescue teams, as well as costs.
Increasingly, US states are looking for ways to punish people who take unnecessary risks. But some doubt that these laws can also stop people from seeking help soon enough after risking their lives for an honest mistake.
New Hampshire passed a law in 2008 that made it possible to seek reimbursement if state officials believed a rescued person had been negligent.
“We don’t do it often,” said Colonel Kevin Jordan of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “It has to be something that’s pretty wild, pretty out there. But one thing I’m pretty strict about is being unprepared, because those are literally the things that cost lives.”
Five other states — Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Vermont and Oregon — have similar laws that allow them to bill people for the cost of rescues in certain situations.
Hawaii has two pending bills that allow search and rescue services to claim compensation from people who stray from hiking trails or intentionally ignore a warning or notice and then need to be rescued.
And South Dakota passed a law to help offset search and rescue costs. In March 2020, Governor Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 56, allowing rescue agencies to charge each person as much as $1,000.