Wildlife agency expands search and rescue | SteamboatToday.com

Wildlife agency expands search and rescue

Steamboat Pilot

— With avalanche season upon us, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has announced an expanded program to help counties pay for search and rescue efforts.

The new program will reimburse counties not just for missions to find lost or injured anglers and hunters, but also for finding owners of registered boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles – and immediate family members.

"This is not an insurance policy, but the program is a way for people to gain a degree of confidence that if they find themselves or their relatives in a situation where they need a search and rescue team's help, they will not go broke paying the bills," said Joe Griess, search and rescue coordinator for the division.

"Nor will the county have to absorb excessive costs."

A new system for dispersing money from the Division's search and rescue fund gained approval Thursday from the Colorado Wildlife Commission at its regular meeting.

In the past, hunters and anglers paid a 25-cent sur-charge on their licenses. Proceeds went into the Division's search and rescue fund, used to reimburse Colorado counties for rescues of only licensed sportsmen. The fund was capped at $300,000 a year and any unspent money rolled over into the Division's wildlife cash account.

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Under H.B. 1121 passed by the Colorado legislature this year, the fund has been expanded. In addition to hunters and anglers, registered boat, snowmobile and off-road vehicle owners will pay a 25-cent sur-charge into the rescue fund.

The Division will be appropriating $300,000 annually, all of which will be spent for rescue related-purposes.

First in line for reimbursements are rescue missions for people who paid the surcharge. After making reimbursements for missions involving them, the Division can use any surplus revenues for rescues of immediate family members.

Next in line for extra money are counties that apply for help in paying for search and rescue training and equipment. If any money still remains in the fund, county sheriffs can ask for help to other uncompensated searches. Those requests will be paid on a prorated basis.

The new system reflects a cooperative effort by the Division, its search and rescue advisory board, county sheriffs, statewide rescue representatives and legislatures.

County sheriffs must certify reimbursement requests and send them to the Division for payment. An advisory board, expanded to nine members, will set priorities for awarding money and settle any disputes that may arise.

In past years, the Division has spent about $60,000 annually from the rescue fund. The new procedures were designed to make sure more of the surcharge money goes to help pay for local rescue expenses.

So far this year the Division has paid out approximately $18,000 in rescue claims. Despite numerous hunters lost during this fall's big game season, the Division isn't worried about depleting the fund this year – barring any extraordinary events, Griess said.