Every few months I read another story about an outdoor adventure gone wrong. Either the boat capsized while floating the Escalante, the ATV was driven a bit too fast on one of our mountain roads, or someone relied solely on Google Maps in remote Garfield County.
Almost every backdoor in Utah leads to the backcountry. And with more and more visitors and residents enjoying our natural resources and public lands, more and more volunteer emergency services are called upon to help those in need. The average cost of a rescue is $2000 but can be in the $10,000+ category based on location and difficulty.
To help counties and the state pay for their search and rescue services, the State of Utah created the Utah Search and Rescue Assistance (USRA) card. It provides insurance(ish) for individuals and families to pay a $25/$35 annual fee to receive no-cost/low-cost backcountry search and rescue services. It’s available for Utah and non-Utah residents.
USRA is not a health insurance card. It only pays for the rescue services provided by the county. So, you would have to pay for the medical transportation if you have the USRA card. However, you do not have to pay for non-medical services, such as discovering where you are located. More information can be found at rescue.utah.gov.
The program also covers all search and rescue services as long as you did not intentionally or recklessly engage in highly unreasonable behavior. Jumping off a cliff, travelling somewhere incredibly unsafe, or doing a multiple day trip without any gear or water in the desert could constitute as highly unreasonable behavior.
All proceeds from the USRA card go to the Utah state agency responsible for reimbursing counties costs for their Search and Rescue teams. The money is used to train the volunteer county teams to provide this service.
If you are an avid adventurer, I recommend you look into this service provided by the state of Utah. It will help you and your county reduce costs and worries when you need help the most. However, if you choose not to buy the USRA card, search and rescue teams will still come to your aid, but you may increase the counties’ costs to provide Search and Rescue services to its guests and residents.
A few other backcountry tips as you plan your spring, summer, and fall trips:
Always tell someone where you are going. Even if you are vague, make sure it is a google-able location. Tell someone when you are leaving and when you should be home. I typically give myself an extra half day when telling my family where I’m travelling so I do not feel rushed and to accommodate the unexpected. The family rescued on the Escalante River last year were searched for because they did not check in with friends as scheduled.
Carry enough water and snacks. Hangry becomes a whole new beast in the backcountry or when a two hour excursion becomes a whole day trip. People tend to make careless mistakes when hungry.
Know your limits and the limits of your group. Your outdoor gang is only as fit/strong/able as the frailest person in the group. For everyone to have fun and stay safe, recognize what you and your group can realistically accomplish.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the March 7th Wayne & Garfield County Insider.