State looking at bolstering backcountry search and rescue


In a recent Washington State public hearing held by the House Innovation, Community and Economic Development, and Veterans Committee, lawmakers explored bolstering search and rescue resources. 

House Bill 2257, spearheaded by Rep. Keith Goehner (R), seeks to establish a grant program supporting backcountry search and rescue organizations.

The proposed legislation is set to give rise to the Back Country Search and Rescue Grant Account, an initiative to address the escalating demand for search and rescue missions in Washington state, which has many remote outdoor areas.

Goehner highlighted the surge in backcountry search and rescue missions, attributing it to the growing number of individuals engaging in recreational activities across the state. He emphasized the strain on local entities, law enforcement and volunteers who often face limited or no financial support for their endeavors.

“With the increasing popularity of recreational opportunities in Washington state, especially in the 12th District, there is a noticeable rise in backcountry search and rescue missions,” Goehner said. “Local entities, law enforcement, volunteers and others involved in those missions may receive little or no funding. The rescue operations can be very costly, especially in treacherous terrain, and when helicopters are needed.”

According to estimates from the Washington State Military Department’s Emergency Management Division, approximately 1,000 search and rescue missions take place annually. 

House Bill 2257 would create a grant program to support planning, equipment, training, exercise and operation costs from backcountry search and rescue volunteers. It would also provide financial support to search and rescue organizations. Along with this, the bill would also allow counties, cities and towns to recover backcountry search and rescue costs that remain unreimbursable through other funding means.

Goehner clarified that the bill currently incurs no cost or funding. The primary objective is to establish a funding mechanism or grant program that can swiftly cater to the needs of local entities and volunteers in the near future. He said that volunteer search and rescue groups had expressed the necessity for a dedicated account to which private entities could contribute, pooling resources for collective search and rescue efforts.

The state’s military department would oversee the program, with the Back Country Search and Rescue Grant Account being established in the state treasury. The account is designed to receive legislative appropriations, donations, gifts, grants, or funds from various public or private sources.

The legislation is slated for a committee vote this Thursday, Jan. 25.