New law allowing Utahns to pre-pay for search and rescue costs gets mixed reaction

Posted at 6:15 PM, Mar 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-30 00:00:02-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill on its way to becoming a new law in Utah will alleviate costs for search and rescue teams across the state, and it would also help those in need of a rescue.

Right now, stranded hikers, injured climbers or others in trouble could potentially be billed by search and rescue for the services rendered in their time of emergency. But HB324, which has already passed in the House and Senate, creates a form of search and rescue insurance.

“There's not one person who isn't impacted in some way, shape, or form by someone who's been rescued or someone who's had trouble when they're outdoor recreating,” State Rep. Sophia DiCaro, R-District 31, said.

DiCaro was one of the legislators behind HB 324, Utah’s volunteer search and rescue annual membership card program.

“Volunteers can purchase a volunteer search and rescue card,” DiCaro said. “In exchange, they'll no longer have the liability of potentially having to pay back those funds.”

Right now, 25 cents out of the fee paid for every hunting and fishing license and 50 cents out of the fee for all HOV and boat registrations go into the state’s search and rescue fund, but over the years it hasn’t been enough.

“Right now there's an insufficient amount of funds to pay for the costs that are needed,” DiCaro said. “So, for example, Grand County are only able to recuperate about 40 percent of the cost that they incur for search and rescues.”

Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation came up with the idea for the bill. They say Colorado and New Hampshire have seen success with similar programs. Brad Petersen, director of that office, spoke about the value of the program.

“Those of us that are throughout the state recreating--mountain biking, climbing, biking, and even snowmobiling--are going to want to purchase this card because it really is the best way to pay into the search rescue fund to make sure that we're supporting those communities where we all spend our time,” he said.

But not all outdoor enthusiasts are buying it.

“It might be a hard sell for the more experienced outdoorsy people that have found themselves in precarious situations but always manage to get themselves out,” said Suzy McCrory, a Holladay resident.

David Luu of West Valley City also expressed doubt about the program.

“I think the con of that is that nobody is going to buy into it,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea on paper, but I don’t think that anyone is going to assume they are going to be the one to get lost.”

But Sandy resident Obed Marrder said he is one of those who would likely purchase the card.

“I probably would because I think I’m going to be out here enough to where if I do need it, it would be nice to have it--just have that piece of mind,” he said.

The search and rescue advisory board will determine how much the annual membership will cost. They said the cost needs to be low enough that people will participate but high enough that it is able to generate revenue for search and rescue costs.

The bill has already passed through Utah’s House and Senate, and it could go into law by early May.