Some stranded hikers rescued by NH Fish & Game not so thankful after the bill

New Hampshire Sunday News |
October 21. 2013 9:41PM

Sunburned and tired, Scott Mason hugged his father, Michael, moments after he was brought off Mount Washington following a rescue effort that spanned several days. (Lorna Colquhoun File)

Wearing his prosthetic leg, Southern NH Montessori Academy teacher James Osborne rides his bicycle to school almost every day. Osborne lost his right leg and part of his left foot to frostbite during an ill-fated hiking trip in Franconia State Park five years ago. (COURTESY)

A law that requires negligent hikers to reimburse the state for their rescue missions is proving hard to enforce.

About half of the $100,725 billed in fiscal years 2007 to 2011 has been collected, said state Fish and Game Col. Martin Garabedian.

Only $53,768 was collected from the 39 missions that qualified under the legal definition of negligent, about 53 percent, Garabedian said.

"It's a huge administrative nightmare. We spend lot of time trying to find these people and collect," Garabedian said.

Negligent hikers are billed for reasonable costs for conservation officers who are responsible by law to conduct the missions. Some rescues are costlier than others because more manpower, time and equipment are needed to rescue lost and distressed hikers.

"A negligent hiker is defined as somebody who takes an unjustifiable risk that constitutes a gross deviation of what we would consider a reasonable person would do," Garabedian said.

The hiker can challenge the finding, and the process can lead to court, he said.

The amount collected isn't close to the annual shortfall in the search-and-rescue fund, which has operated at a loss of $127,862 in 2009 to $204,903 in 2011, according to Garabedian.

The department conducted 957 search-and-rescue missions, costing about $1.8 million, from fiscal years 2006 to 2011, according to its website.
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