Who should shoulder search-rescue costs?

Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002

The tragic spate of deaths and dramatic rescues on two Northwest peaks last week has spurred suggestions that those who need rescue in public parks pay a greater share of the cost. After fear for the people on board, the sight of a $10 million government helicopter tumbling down a mountainside could certainly be expected to generate such a conversation.

Concerns over such costs are understandable, especially when routine maintenance is lagging years behind in national parks and budget woes are forcing some states to consider closing some parks. Perhaps those who take the extraordinary risks involved in wilderness hiking, and certainly mountain climbing, should pick up a larger share of the parks' search and rescue expenses. ...

It would, for instance, be a decidedly bad idea to adopt a policy of directly billing climbers and hikers who need search and rescue services. The last thing any of the badly injured climbers from Mount Hood or Mount Rainier need is a bill, likely in the thousands of dollars, for services rendered. And do we send a bill to grieving family members of those who died?

An after-the-fact billing approach is not only callous, it could very well prove counterproductive. The desire to avoid paying expensive rescue costs might cause climbers and hikers to wait too long to call for help, risking greater danger -- and ultimately, higher rescue costs. ...

With taking risks on public property comes a public responsibility to pitch in to pay for the help you may need, even if you never need it.

-- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

June 5

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