This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Getting rescued in Utah's backcountry could cost thousands of dollars. Or just $25.
On Thursday, Utah launched a program to let outdoor enthusiasts buy yearlong subscription services in lieu of paying expensive rescue costs.
The Utah Search and Rescue Assistance is $25 for one year for an individual and $35 for one year for a family. A five-year subscription is $100 for individuals and $140 for families.
A search that takes less than a few hours may cost less than $1,000, according to Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. The longer the search, the heftier the cost.
"It's not hard for a search to get up to around $10,000," Dougherty said, "especially if you're employing helicopters to help with your search."
People might not find out until they get home, but counties can choose to charge rescued hikers for the search effort.
After a search, counties charge those they rescue, absorb the costs themselves or request reimbursement from the state.
The state reimburses sheriff's offices for searches and training to ease the pressure on tourist-rich counties with relatively small tax bases, such as Grand County, which conducted 125 searches in 2015.
"You have a big intensive search in a rural community, and that can be devastating to [a county's] search and rescue budget," said Tom Adams, director of the state's Office of Outdoor Recreation.
If someone enrolled in the new program were to get lost, the state would reimburse the county for the search and the subscriber would avoid footing the bill.
The county can still opt to charge someone for a search if the sheriff deems the incident reckless. The program also doesn't cover dogs or medical expenses.
Counties are eligible to request reimbursements from the state board that oversees search and rescue if they search for someone who isn't enrolled in the program.
Those who aren't enrolled in the program still risk being charged by the county if they are rescued in Utah's backcountry.
"No one wants to do that," Dougherty said. "They don't want to have to go charge people that needed help."
The subscription cost of the program will supplement the state's Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Program, which is otherwise funded by fees from off-road vehicles and licenses for hunting and fishing. In 2016, the state reimbursed sheriffs' offices $99,418 for searches, $101,158 for training and $89,135 for equipment from the fund.
With the subscription money, the state plans to cover more of the equipment costs for counties, Dougherty said.
Utah Search and Rescue Assistance cards are available at rescue.utah.gov.
Twitter: Tiffany_mf Utah Search and Rescue Assistance subscriptions
Individual, one year • $25
Family, one year • $35
Individual, five years • $100
Family, five years • $140