CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department is seeing a higher-than-average number of searches and rescues this year in its mountains, forests and waterways, and it may set a record, the agency’s chief of law enforcement says.

Col. Kevin Jordan said the department averages about 180 searches and rescues annually. He didn’t have an exact number yet for 2017, but said the number is already above that.

Jordan said last year’s winter brought a lot of snowfall. Much of it stayed in the higher elevations into May. He said that contributed to a higher number of unprepared hikers who didn’t bring enough warm clothing, food and equipment.

But now, it’s fall — prime hiking and tourism season — and that’s bringing in a lot of calls, too, of people who don’t have the basic items or who wander away from their groups.

“I’ve had three this week without maps, without headlights, without compasses,” Jordan said. A cellphone isn’t good enough, he said.

Hikers are encouraged to buy a Hike Safe card, which supports the search and rescue efforts, and exempts card holders from any costs. Jordan said card sales bring in over $100,000 a year, adding to the agency’s yearly search and rescue budget of about $185,000. But rescue costs are rising, Jordan said.

Jordan said this year, through Aug. 1, the department billed over $83,000 for 13 search and rescue missions. So far, it’s collected nearly $10,000.

“It’s not working well,” he said.

Jordan said a sustainable funding source for the search and rescue program is needed. There are at least two bills expected to be introduced before the Legislature next year on that topic. One, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Jon Manley, of Bennington, would set aside a portion of rental fees for canoes, kayaks and personal watercraft.

“We had a couple of very expensive water rescues this year, and in some cases, unfortunately, water recoveries,” Manley said. “We’re just looking for another way that we might augment the fund and come up with something that might work.”

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KATHY McCORMACK
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