It’s not a new question: If people take unnecessary risks in the wilderness, should they be billed to recover costs of search and rescue efforts?
The discussion came up in Canada recently after a 33-year-old snowboarder got lost for over two days at a resort in British Columbia. (Though now living in B.C. Sébastien Boucher is originally from Gatineau, which made this a story with local connections in Ottawa.)
It ended well – Boucher was found, exhausted and cold, but otherwise uninjured. But Cypress Mountain Resort says they will send a bill for $10,000 – to partially cover expenses and lost revenue. (The resort states it diverted employees and shut down a ski run to conduct the search.) If the proposed bill recovers money from Boucher, Cypress Mountain says that will be donated to the rescue organization.
The specifics in this individual story have an element of “he said, she said”. It has been alleged that Boucher intentionally ignored signs and safety barriers to go his own way – into danger, as it turned out. Boucher and his friends say no, he was distracted after learning about the sudden death of a close friend.
The rescue was complicated by Boucher’s decision to keep moving and not sleep. While that may have kept him alive, it made searcher’s work more difficult.
It’s worth noting the area’s rescue service is not planning to bill Boucher. It fact they say it’s a bad idea, according to this report by CTV British Columbia:
North Shore Rescue team leader Tim Jones said he advises members not to get tangled up in debates about forcing people to pay for their rescues, but noted that fines can actually do more harm than good.
“We can’t be put in a position that we’re chasing people because they don’t want to get caught, or get found,” Jones said.
“Most people who get lost or injured it’s because they make a mistake or something happens that’s out of their control,”
Having said that, Jones was not impressed by Boucher’s behavior:
“…he intentionally went out of bounds. No bones about it. He’ll probably do it again.”
“What concerns us is the media and the public look at it as though the person has done a bad thing and should be charged for it. That causes us no end of grief,” Yochim said by phone.
“People who hear about the threat of getting charged — we’re afraid that if something like that comes in it may cause family and friends to launch a search, which could be fatal,” because of the dangers involved, he said.
So, there are good arguments for and against fines.
How do you see this?
Is it worth looking at motive to sort out who gets lost through mishap, verses those who (some say) “were asking for it”?
If you go that route, though, then the question of competence also arises. Should people who are too ignorant to safety engage in wilderness activities be fined if they get into trouble? (Of course, the ignorant are often unlikely to know what they don’t know!)
It does seem to come down to behaving responsibility and using common sense, though goodness knows both of those qualities can be in short supply.