Oct 1, 2015 9:35 PM

NH1 News Investigates Saving Search and Rescue: NH Fish and Game Department experiences largest deficit


CONCORD- For the first time in over a decade, the cost of hunting and fishing licenses are going up; but the deficit in New Hampshire's Fish and Game Department is a problem far deeper than that.

More people visiting the state's mountains means a record number of hiker, kayaker and canoe rescues.

As a result, the cost of medical resources are rising and the department is seeing its biggest ever deficit. That news isn't good for an already minimal funding source that hasn't been adjusted to inflation since the 1980s.

"They're very concerned how we're going to keep this going," said David Kidder, the house chair for the Fish and Game committee.

Contrary to popular belief, the department's funding is NOT from taxes. Search and rescue is only funded by the fees from hunting licenses and off-road vehicle registration fees. But those people only account for 14% of the rescues, which means most of those whose lives are being saved - aren't paying for it.

"There isn't a dollar in this that's from taxes," said Col. Kevin Jordan, Chief of law enforcement with Fish and Game. "You rob Peter and take from Paul."

On average there's $190,000 of debt building each year. Every rescue costs about $2,000, and there were already over their average number of missions this year, with three months left.

Some have suggested using money from the general fund because the state advertises exploring the mountains and wildlife. Some think the funding should be from increased meal and board tax.

"You take the pledge in NH," said Kidder. "No new taxes; and you have to live and die by it."

The state launched it's 'Hike Safe' card this year, as a way for people help contribute to the costs of up-to-date equipment and the staff for a rescue. The program was a success but there's still a long way to go.

Another suggestion for raising money is to have special stickers that people can buy from the state to show their support for the cause. This would be similar to how someone might support a non-profit with a bumper sticker.

"Paddling around on Grafton pond for instance, and they see someone who doesn't have one, you know there's peer pressure here," said Kidder.

But even if that idea is implemented there will have to be another source for funds to keep up with the rise of expenses for saving lives.

Fish and Game say you can help by reducing the amount of rescues by skipping a hike on a day with bad weather. They also suggest carrying more water and lighting than you think and always wear ankle-supporting footwear.


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