Although search and rescue groups can be the difference between life and death for those who end up relying on them in the backcountry, they’re facing an uncertain future as the government didn’t announce any money for them in the latest provincial budget.
The B.C. Search and Rescue Association had been hoping for $6 million from the province.
“Six million dollars, given that there’s a surplus, we feel is very reasonable,” Chris Mushumanski, a spokesperson for B.C. Search and Rescue Association, said.
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“For three years, the provincial government has given us $5 million each year, and the SAR community used that extremely well,” he added.
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The funding is used for things like personal protective and rescue equipment, training and operational expenses, such as licensing and insurance, Mushumanski said.
SAR groups are also hoping that the government will make their funding permanent, he added.
Provincial funding runs out on March 31, leaving search and rescue groups short on cash and unable to plan ahead with training courses or buy much-needed equipment, Mushumanski said.
“The SAR community likes to be proactive and plan ahead and have a good sense as to where are we going to get our funds to start paying for training courses that are going to start coming up in the spring, where are we going to get our money for response equipment and safety equipment that’s going to be essential for responding to swift water season, fire evacuations,” Mushumanski said.
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On budget day, Finance Minister Carole James said that the group’s request is under consideration and discussions are ongoing.
“They do extraordinary work. I don’t think there’s anyone who would question the work being done by search and rescue,” James said. “The conversations are going on about sustainable funding for them through Emergency B.C.”
Randy Brown of Penticton Search and Rescue estimated his team spends 8,000 to 10,000 hours a year attending meetings.
“And when you have to put a lot of time and effort to fundraising, it just wears on the amount of time people can commit to an organization such as ours,” he said.
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Call volumes continue to increase year over year, Mushumanski said.
“We’ve seen an increase in involvement in delivering evacuation notices and alerts, particularly with forest fires and flooding,” he said.
“We’re optimistic that something might be announced soon so that volunteers are not having to put in tens of thousands of hours of fundraising and grant-writing time, which is never guaranteed to fund the critical services that search and rescue provides,” he added.
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Search and rescue groups across the province respond to an average of more than 1,700 calls a year, Mushumanski said.
“I guess the question you have to ask yourself, is if you don’t have SAR volunteers going into the backcountry, who’s going to do it?” Brown said.
Mushamanski is encouraging SAR advocates to contact their local MLA to voice their support.
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“We operate under the mantra: they ask so little but give so much,” Mushumanski said. “And we certainly feel that is absolutely fitting with what our request is to the provincial government.”