OUT: Search Bill January 25, 2009

Search, rescue fees could double

What started as an assault on the pocketbooks of Colorado’s hunters and anglers has softened to a slight finger tap that’s still going to cost sportsmen more money.

House Bill 09-1071, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Gagliardi, D-Arvada, would double the 25-cent search and rescue fee surcharge on every hunting and fishing license to 50 cents to pay for additional education and training for search and rescue crews.

Doubling the surcharge also applies to habitat stamps and registration fees for snowmobiles, ATVs and boats.

Traditionally, the search-and-rescue monies are allocated by the Department of Local Affairs to reimburse country sheriffs for expenses for backcountry searches and, if any money is left over, to help pay for new equipment and training.

Gagliardi’s initial legislation would have quadrupled the surcharge to $1 and also opened the rescue operations to municipalities, which means sportsmen could have been funding inner city manhunts for jail escapees or wandering Alzheimer patients.

However, after meeting Friday with representatives from county commissioners, sheriff’s offices and search and rescue groups, Gagliardi backed off the $1 increase and decided to leave searches in the hands of those who know best, the county sheriff.

“After meeting with some of the folks involved in search and rescue, we made quite a few changes in the bill,” Gagliardi said. “We want to find a way to educate the people about search and rescue and (find a way) to get more money for them.”

The search and rescue fund was established to help offset rescue costs for often-underfunded sheriff’s departments, since most search-and-rescue efforts occur in places with the wildest country and fewest resources, both human and fiscal.

The legislation still could result in more demand for rescues and for the funds, said Brian Langfitt, a Grand Junction sportsmen who sits on the Search and Rescue Fund Advisory Council.

“This bill wants to make people with certain mental or physical conditions as well as people over a certain age automatically a Tier One,” Langfitt said. “Who do you think will pay for these additions?”

Tier One means someone who has paid directly into the fund, such as a license, habitat stamp or registration buyer. These rescues always are reimbursed.

Tier Two is someone related to a license, etc, holder while Tier Three are people who haven’t paid into the system but get rescued, anyway.

Gagliardi said the bill originated after she meet two years ago with Allyn Atadero, whose 3-year old son Jaryd was lost during a church camp outing in Oct. 1993.

“We’re trying to make something positive out of that,” Gagliardi said. “How do we find more money, how do we coordinate searches better, and make it more positive?”

She also said the bill would bring more attention to the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) cards, which are for non-license buyers. A card buyer is considered a Tier One.

The cards have been sold since 2002 and are available to anyone on a one-or five-year basis.

“The CORSAR card was initiated because sportsmen said they were tired of getting dinged for the cost of search and rescues,” said Sue Schneider of the Northwest Regional office of the Department of Local Affairs. “Last year, non-sportsmen comprised 62 percent of the
rescues we paid for.”

During the same period, hunters and anglers made up 9 percent of the rescues. The folks paying the most for the rescues are those who least often need it.

This unfair burden is similar to the fate of the state habitat stamp, which was started to give non-license buyers an opportunity to pay their share of managing state wildlife lands.

Figures show hunters and anglers who are required to purchase habitat stamps when buying licenses supply more than 98 percent of the stamp income.

Many sportsmen get dinged at least twice a year by search and rescue surcharges, since most own ATVS, snowmobiles, boats and buy multiple (i.e., a hunting and a fishing) licenses.

It’s estimated that sheriffs’ departments conduct 1,400 rescues each year, most of which aren’t reimbursed through DOLA.

Last year, Mesa County received $5,646 for seven rescues along with $7,417 for approved training and equipment.

“It certainly was fairly significant for us,” said Lt. Jim Fogg, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue coordinator. “That money allows us to afford some training and equipment that we might not have if we had to take it out of our budget.”

Among the training were a man-tracking specialist, some incident command training and an avalanche course, most of which required travel and other expenses paid out of the DOLA reimbursement.

It also provides funding from somewhere other than the county’s taxpayers, Fogg said.

“Most of the rescues are for people from out of the county or out of state and this keeps us from going to the taxpayers for the money,” he said. “It goes a long way when we present our annual (search-and-rescue) budget to the county commissioners.”

More information is available at the Department of Local Affairs Web site, http://www.dola.state.co.us; click on Financial Assistance, then click on Search and Rescue.


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