Editor's note: The Chief's weekly editorial represents the opinion of the newspaper.
Tourism brings oodles of money into our province, but not enough of that cash is making it to our search and rescue organizations, such as Squamish Search and Rescue, whose volunteers care for those visitors when their trips go awry.
Tourism-related provincial tax revenue totalled more than $1.1 billion in 2016, according to the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. That year saw about six million overnight international visitors arriving.
With those numbers come more accidents.
Emergency Management BC confirms what we could have guessed: Squamish Search and Rescue is currently the busiest in the province.
Because of our rugged terrain, rescuers often perform operations that are extremely technical — such as the recovery of the bodies of the three fallen hikers from Shannon Falls last month. Local members freely give of their time, skill and energy, sometimes suffering PTSD from what they see or experience.
It is time we had stable funding for our search and rescue teams in B.C.
Currently, our Squamish team relies on donations from government, corporations and individuals to fund the on-average 100 operations they head out on each year in the Sea to Sky Corridor.
[Go to “Emergency Management BC, incident reports” and search “Squamish” to find the most recent SAR operations.]
The provincial government has spent millions over the last few years, giving the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA ) several one-off grants that were disbursed to regional rescue teams, like ours.
But that funding was not permanent.
The association — the umbrella organization for the province’s 80 search and rescue teams — has told the government what groups like Squamish Search and Rescue need and it is stable, long-term funding.
They have even laid out a blueprint for how to provide it. “BCSARA has provided extensive information and is engaged in the discussions. The third and final year of disbursements of funding announced by the province in 2016 and 2017 have been provided to SAR groups by BCSARA proving that the proposed model works well. Moving to a fully sustained model is critical in supporting the volunteers who save lives every day,” Chris Kelly, president of BCSARA, told The Chief.
It is time and resource-wasting for these groups to have to keep going hat in hand to the government. The process makes it next to impossible to make long-term plans when the team doesn’t know for sure how much they will receive.
Our current system leaves our SAR and others around the province stranded in ways they don’t leave our tourists — unsure if needed help is coming.
Government should give SAR teams the same respect rescuers give to the stranded.