Coloradans may soon be asked to pay a little more to buy a card that helps provide funding for search-and-rescue operations in the state.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is considering increasing the price of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card from $3 a year, or $12 for a five-year card, to $5 for an annual card and $20 for a five-year card.
Since 1987, a 25-cent surcharge has been imposed on hunting and fishing licenses to provide money toward the state Backcountry Search and Rescue Fund. Since 1992, the same fee has been applied to every snowmobile, off-highway vehicle and boat registration.
In 2001 the state legislature created the search-and-rescue cards to offer residents another way to help fund search-and-rescue operations in the state, particularly if they don’t already pay search-and-rescue surcharges. The price of the cards hasn’t increased since their introduction.
The cards originally were called hiker cards, and sales typically have focused on outdoor recreationists such as hikers, skiers, mountain bikers, and tourists to the state.
Perry Boydstun, administrator of the state Backcountry Search and Rescue Program, noted in a presentation to the Parks and Wildlife Commission on Wednesday that the cards aren’t an insurance card, as search-and-rescue services generally are provided to the public for free.
The goal of the proposed price increase is to improve funding for the program. Currently about $600,000 is generated annually for the search-and-rescue fund, with about 80% coming from surcharges and the rest from the card. Some of the money goes to reimburse counties for costs related to search-and-rescue responses to incidents, and funding also goes to counties for equipment and training.
Boydstun told the commission that a lot has changed since the surcharge program began in 1987, with “more hunters, more anglers, more tourists, more recreationalists, more vehicles. People go deeper into the backcountry, (there’s) more risky activities.”
Commissioner Marie Haskett, a hunting and fishing outfitter in Rio Blanco County, said that in that county it used to be that hunters were the main people search-and-rescue crews looked for, and now it’s mostly recreationalists.
“And people don’t know that you can buy a card that will help fund this, and I think that’s important,” she said.
She said, “I think it’s pretty cheap if you’re lost out there, for five bucks to have somebody come find you or help you if you’re hurt, anything like that.”
Ty Petersburg, acting assistant director of field services for Parks and Wildlife, said most people who need search-and-rescue services aren’t hunting or fishing at the time. He said part of the idea behind increasing the card price is to spread more of the cost of funding search and rescue beyond hunters and anglers.
“They’ve really borne the burden of these costs for a long time,” he said.
Commissioner Karen Bailey said there is an inherent inequity now between who is paying into the search-and-rescue fund and who is mostly relying on search-and-rescue services.
“I think it does really behoove us to ensure that those who are benefiting from this effort are paying into it,” she said.
Commissioner Jay Tutchton said he doesn’t think people would object to an increase in the 25-cent surcharge as well. Petersburg said Parks and Wildlife is moving conservatively in that regard, given increases in licenses and fees that already have been imposed on hunters and anglers, but the agency will looking into a possible increase in the surcharge.
The price increase will be coming back to the commission soon for final consideration.
A bill passed by the Legislature last year transferred the search and rescue fund and its administration from the state Department of Local Affairs to Parks and Wildlife, starting at the beginning of this year.
Search-and-rescue operations in Colorado occur under the authority of county sheriffs, and rely on the efforts of volunteer search-and-rescue teams. In recent years the legislature has been stepping up efforts to support those volunteers and search-and-rescue programs. This includes by allocating up to $2.5 million a year in revenues from the newly introduced Keep Colorado Wild state park pass program toward search-and-rescue programs. People are offered those passes for purchase when they renew their automobile registration.
Petersburg said even if search-and-rescue programs got the full $2.5 million in Keep Colorado Wild funding each year, and the search-and-rescue surcharge was tripled to 75 cents, bringing in an estimated $1.8 million a year, “that’s a drop in the bucket for the needs out there” for search-and-rescue funding.
Parks and Wildlife Commission Chair Carrie Besnette Hauser suggested that Parks and Wildlife might consider offering a lifetime search-and-rescue card, perhaps for something like $50. She also suggested offering the ability for people buying cards to also be able to donate an additional amount beyond the cost of the card for search-and-rescue programs.
“I would imagine you’ll have lots of people do just that, given the cause,” she said.