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Search-And-Rescue Missions Cost National Park Service Nearly $4 Million In 2013

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Be careful in the parks this summer, don't turn into a SAR Mission/NPS

While the number of search-and-rescue missions conducted in the National Park System in 2013 dropped slightly from the previous year, the number of individuals never found jumped fourfold, to 56, according to the National Park Service's annual Search and Rescue Report.

The 2,348 SARs conducted last year marked a decrease of 528 from 2012, and the agency costs shrank, too, from nearly $5.2 million in 2012 to roughly $3.8 million.

The cause of most visitors needing help from rangers? Far and away "fatigue and physical condition" was cited most, with that listed behind 703 of the missions. For 516 incidents, the visitors made an error in judgment or had insufficent information for their trip. There were 148 fatalities cited in the 2013 report, five more than in 2012. Park Service officials could not immediately say whether that was a coincidence or error.

Somewhat interesting was the notation that personal locator beacons were the source used to request aid in just 47 cases, while satellite phones were used in 101 incidents to summon help, with cellphones used in 858 of the cases.

As was the case in 2012, weekends proved the most dangerous in 2013, no doubt in large part to Saturdays and Sundays luring more visitors into the parks than any other day of the week. Of the 2,348 SAR missions, 433 were launched on a Saturday, with 370 begun on a Sunday. Fridays accounted for 301 missions.

Which activity is most likely to lead to a SAR? Day-hiking. That form of recreation in the parks led to 1,379 SARs, which involved 588 injuries and 27 fatalities. Backpacking produced 490 SARs, involved 238 injuries, and 10 fatalities. Even fishing can be dangerous if you're not careful, as there were 40 SARs tied to that activity with two injuries and six deaths reported.

Among the report's details:

* Far and away (92 percent), most individuals were found within 24 hours of being reported lost.

* In 19 cases, it took more than a week to find the individual(s).

* 374 of those reported missing did what you should do -- stay put.

* The Pacific West Region conducted the most SARs in 2013, with 737 logged, while the Intermountain Region counted 726 missions. The National Capital Region had just 27.

* In 677 (20 percent) of the missions, the individuals needing help were between the age of 20 and 29. 

* Of the roughly $3.8 million spent on SARs in 2013 by the Park Service, $1.9 million went to personnel, $1.5 million to aircraft, $110,378 to vessels, and $298,714 to supplies.

The Park Service does not typically charge for SARs, though it can bill individuals if their recklessness gets them in trouble.

Among last year's SARs?

* Canyoneering accidents at Zion National Park in Utah. 

* A teenager falling into a steam vent (and surviving!) at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

* A bare-footed day-hiker at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

* A missing hiker at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho.

* A climbing accident at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

* A missing man at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

* A hiker injured during a storm event at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina/Tennessee.


"Which activity is most likely to lead to a SAR? Day-hiking"

And your point?

My point is that here in the Smokies and elsewhere, the NPS has used search and rescue as a justification for backcountry fees.  Yet the majority of rescues don't involve backcountry campers.  They are dayhikers who are exempt from backcountry usage fees.  Backcountry campers are typically more saavy and wouldn't think of hiking to Mt. Leconte, for example, in cotton shorts and no rain gear.

Another thing I would like to see added to this article is what percentage of those rescues occured in places like Rainier and Denali.  Denali has a 350 dollar climbing fee.   Speaking of that look what the NPS put on their website with regard to that newly raised fee:  NOTE: Effective January 1, 2014, the mountaineering special use fee will increase based on Consumer Price Index changes. For climbers who register January 1 or thereafter, the inflation-adjusted fee for 2014 will be $360 U.S. currency. Accordingly, the reduced fee for climbers aged 24 or younger will be $260. 

CPI is national, not regional, so should we expect all NPS fees to be adjusted?

This morning's MORNING REPORT had stories of a number of S&R responses in several parks.

4 last week at Glen Canyon.

1 at Grand Canyon.

1 at Rocky Mountain.

None appeared to involve carelessness by anyone.  Just routine emergencies.

How many other emergencies required NPS response in other areas, but didn't make it to the Morning Report?

Frankly, I'm surprised the cost is only $4 million.

A very simple solution to this issue is the requirement of a rescue bond for high risk activities.  Rescue bonds could be linked to outfits like Global Rescue for climbers, hikers and the like.  All other activities would be "on their own."  I believe that the NPS has an obligation to provide safety but within reason.  That is why I paid big money to climb Denali so they could provide a ranger presence, so I am told, at 14 thousand foot camp.  This would allay a great deal of expense to the NPS.  Just a thought.

Simple.  Offer emergency insurance to every park entrant for $1.  You buy the insurance, no cost for rescue.  You don't buy the insurance, you pay. 

From just last week, I know of at least two airlifts in the GSMNP, one of which was on LeConte when a man completely dislocated and seperated his ankle by tripping over a rock, and the other was for a motorcyclist that crashed into Little River.   Another S&R involved a lady in a wheel chair that went over a cliff.  I don't think either incident made the news.  Just another typical week during the very busy summer season in the Smokies.  There were probably quite a few other injuries and crashes.  I don't think the park service, or anyone with a sense of compassion or empathy would just let those people lay there dying as raven food, in any case.

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