Search and Rescue Teams Stretched Thin as More Americans Take to the Great Outdoors

by Craig Garrett
Two Rescuers helping skier - stock photo

More search and rescue teams in the United States are struggling to keep up with demand as more people are hitting the outdoors. Most of these teams are volunteers that work closely with local sheriff’s departments, PBS News Hour reports. Being injured while hiking carries greater risks than being injured at a ski resort. This is because hikers are further away from civilization. If you break your leg on a hike, it may take longer to call for help and receive rescue. Of course, this is generally provided by volunteer search and rescue teams.

According to Unofficial Networks, it is crucial to understand that there is nothing whatsoever negative about volunteer search and rescue teams. These are individuals who spend their own money ($1,500 on average in Colorado annually) and time to save other people’s lives. The problem with these programs emerges from a lack of support for these groups. It’s not the group members themselves or the program as a whole.

With less government funding and an increasing number of people enjoying time in nature, search and rescue groups are struggling to keep up. PBS NewsHour recently examined this pressing issue, providing valuable insights into the state of search and rescue across America.

The largest conundrum for volunteer search and rescue groups in the United States is a lack of money. The solution to that problem is not clear. It seems like states should contribute more resources. However, New Hampshire’s method is billing rescued individuals when carelessness was involved.

A case for charging for search and rescue

James Clark, 80, was charged nearly $2,500 by New Hampshire Fish & Game after being rescued on Mount Washington in 2019. According to Clark, he told his two teenage grandsons to leave him behind on Lion Head Trail as he was struggling to keep up; they were supposed to reunite once the hike was completed. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t able to make it and around 7:45 p.m., the teenagers called for help. When rescuers found Clark, he didn’t have adequate cold-weather gear and was suffering from hypothermia.

New Hampshire Fish & Game classified Clark’s need for rescue as negligence. Some people might find this unsympathetic, but they have a point. If the men had taken time to understand the hike better and pack before setting out, it’s likely that he would’ve never needed rescuing in the first place.

If the case warrants it, such as when intoxication or plain old stupidity is involved, then rescue services should be charged for. However, given the evidence, it seems to make more sense to fund and support search and rescue groups. These are the people who will come looking for you if you get lost in the wilderness, after all. You can easily donate to search and rescue groups in your state. This may be fair if you frequently spend time outdoors where their services may be needed.