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.

Based on how many rescues are due to day hiking, it seems that the only rational solution is to ban day hiking. :)

At $4m a year, which is close to nothing in the big scheme of things, I think that the current systems works great. Or, if it's really a problem, tack a mandatory $1 to each entrance fee for SAR costs (or whatever the real cost is).

Gary, I am in agreement. Being part of the SAR operations was an extremely rewarding part of my tenure with the NPS. Yes there is occasionally the person who participates in some reckless behavior, deserves a citation or more . The vast majority of incidents however are accidents or just inexperience. We all started there at one point. These people are extremely grateful and normally, their income levels permitting (and in some cases that makes no difference for them personally), make contributions to the local SAR accounts. RickB you made an eloquent statement on this issue several moths ago, thanks.

Yep, Leconte dayhikers require the rescues. And Leconte Lodge should have to pay something since that lodge draws so many folks up there. Since they earn more than 1.5 million per year and are the only private lodging concession within the National Park and a disproportionate number of dayhiking rescues occur up there I'd say they have some responsibility in the matter. Not to mention the damage incurred on Trillium Gap trail as a result of the weekly Llama trains that supply the place. The paltry amount they pay in fees to the NPS in no way covers all the NPS has to do to keep that concession rolling in the dough.

Actually, it wasn't a dayhiker... and LeConte lodge does pay back into the park. I was up on Trillium Gap trail a few weeks back, and other than a few sections of stepping over llama droppings, I didn't see any sort of ravaged trail destruction from the 7 to 9 lllamas that go up there per week to bring down bedding. Sounds like just more sour grapes. Considering LeConte has some of the best views in the park, I can understand why people seek dayhiking to the top of that mountain. No different than Longs Peak, Half Dome, or many other peaks in our national parks of similiar stature. The lodge has nothing to do with wanting to see the views from Cliff Tops or Myrtle Point.

The woman hurt on Leconte was probably flown out by UT Med's helicopter. Wouldn't UT Med bill the woman for her medical evacuation? I know that if you are medically evacuated from Yellowstone by the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center helicopter, you are responsible for the bill.

Actually the lodge has a great deal with the amt of people who go up there. Since I have hiked that trail a couple hundred more times than you, Gary because I am an E. TN native I have spent considerably more time and have more experience with those purported "backcountry" rescues. If you are calling someone who hikes to the lodge in cotton shorts with a daypack so they can stay in the heated lodge a backcountry camper then we have no basis upon which to continue this discourse. There are many other peaks in the Smokies that receive no where near the visitors that Leconte Lodge does for one simple reason, there is a lodge for them there. That exists no where else in the Smokies. The lure of a "civilized" presence with bathrooms and showers and heated cabins and lunches for purchase has drawn many an inexperienced person to the top that couldn't make it down. And then we get to foot the bill. Backcountry campers are the only ones paying to use the backcountry and you guys in the NPS used this as a justification for fees therein. But this article outlines it perfectly. Dayhikers cost the NPS the most, same on Leconte and the Smokies

Similar arguments can be made for the shelters, aka idiot magnets that draw inexperienced folks from all over. Part of the trouble is that the NPS has hijacked the high ground in the park along the AT so guide services like a Walk in the Woods can take their paying clients. A real interesting piece of research would be to see how A Walk in the Woods is able to book up shelter space months in advance for their paying Clients. That will be brought to light when the Southern Forest Watch lawsuit advances. All this cronyism, and Leconte Lodge and their no bid continual concession contract is a fine example, will be in play thanks to the chummy goings on in out most visited National Park. The Smokies is getting aired out thanks to a corrupt former Superintendent. Then common, non political elite can enjoy it as was intended by the TN/NC forbears who sacrificed to see it so. Not some carpetbaggers who's prime goal is to profit from public lands.

I don't consider very much of the Smokies remote backcountry. I guess, you could say Ravens Fork, and some of the drainage's on the western side of the park could be considered "remote", but that's stretching it. I didn't live in an urban landscape like Knoxville, all my life, so yeah you got me there. I'm guilty for wanting to see and explore more than just the same area all my life. I was living in Central Idaho, in the remote part of the lower 48, where the backcountry is quite remote by eastern standards, and trail-less in many areas. Winter was almost 8 to 9 months, and during January, encountering -10 to -20 degree nights was common place.. Most of the Smokies can be navigated back to civilization or back to a road in a day. That to me is not remote backcountry, so yeah, I don't see LeConte as remote backcountry either. It is however a very beautiful mountain, and contains the most biodiversity on it's flanks than probably any other mountain in the lower 48. And i've hiked many of the multiple trails on it quite a bit, during all seasons, since i'm working on a film about that biodiversity, and recreation. Hmmmm when I encounter people, I don't think many feel they are in remote territory either. Yes, there are a lot of people that hike it that wear nike shoes and cotton in winter, i've seen it myself, but still, they are only a 4 hour jaunt from a car.

I also am under the assumption the shelters exist to centralize campers and users of the AT, so that the area isn't a free-for-all.

The rest of your comments are just the typical nonsense, I've come to expect from you, because that's what you do. I just went on, and sure enough, if I wanted to I could currently select a 5 day route through the AT and get a permit. But hey, whatever you say is almost always easy to debunk by 2 clicks of the internets.

Gary. So you don't have a problem with a guide service being able to book a shelter months in advance when you and I can only book it a month in advance? Go to A Walk in the Woods website and see that they have October backpacking trips booked full. Does that not concern you? You say you care about the Smokies but have no concerns about a guide service manipulating the shelters?

Ahh probably not, because they probably have alternate routes, or they book during the day it becomes available. I know that I can't book in advance and have to wait until it becomes available, and i'm subject to the fee, and closures, and rules just like everyone else. Just because they book some trips a few months in advance through their business doesn't mean anything. October the AT isn't that booked either, because cold snaps and weather under 32 degrees start to occur, and that keeps people away. I went up to Spence Field/Rocky Top last year in the middle of october during the first major cold snap, and I had the shelter to myself that night. From the permitting system, 3 days this month, tricorner knob is booked out, with a few days down to 1 slot left. Are you sure it's so inaccessible? That's what you said. The NPS has locked everyone out, that only 28 days of the 31 are available for people to book a slot in many of the shelters. Pecks Corner has five days booked out this month, which was more than the 2 booked out at Ice Water and Mt Collins. I bet Lamar Alexander is up to no good again!! 5 days of out of 31 are already off limits at Pecks! That's tyranny I tell you...Pure shenanigans!