As the popularity of the National Park system continues to grow, more Americans are venturing into remote and wild areas. Unfortunately, this trend has also corresponded with increased reports of injury and calls for medical rescue. Fueled by the sharing of adventurous photos on social media, hikers frequently head into isolated and exotic locations, often inexperienced in outdoor settings, equipped only with their cell phones.
Those lost or in need of medical help in National Parks or other wilderness settings trigger a search and rescue (SAR) operation. A team of trained professionals conducts a search for missing or injured persons, with the goal to return them to safety. However, SAR operations have far-reaching implications for both the rescuer and the rescued, including who has a duty to rescue, legal liability for injuries, and who should ultimately bear the cost of these operations.
At the federal level, the government will provide search and rescue at no cost. In contrast, a minority of states have implemented controversial laws that allow the state to recoup costs directly from the person in need of rescue. This Comment will examine the broad field of SAR and the impracticability of the current regime.
This Comment will also advocate to modify the current system in select areas in favor of “No-Rescue” wilderness designations, in which the government would be prohibited from providing rescue services on government-managed land. A No-Rescue designation would deter inexperienced hikers, resolve the financial and safety burden on search and rescue teams, and further the intended goal set forth in the Wilderness Act: that land set aside “shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment.”
"Hike at Your Own Risk: In Support of No-Rescue Wilderness Designations,"
Penn State Law Review: Vol. 124
, Article 6.
Available at: https://elibrary.law.psu.edu/pslr/vol124/iss2/6