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Illegal hikers avoid facing hefty fines

A bill that would’ve proposed hikers to be charged for their own search and rescue fees died for the Legislative session

By Georgia Clair Johnson-King and Samantha-Jo Sexton

April 15, 2021


Hikers who ignore warning signs will not face a heavy fine for their own search and rescue if they become injured on an illegal trail.

Hawai‘i lawmakers shelved Senate Bill 700, which would have allowed the government to seek reimbursement for search and rescues conducted in prohibited areas.

“Some of these search and rescuers have been themselves injured because it is pretty dangerous terrain,” State Sen. Clarence Nishihara said in an interview. “When you do what you do, you subject others to danger.”

“If the government decided it was okay to be on then itʻs just an accident as opposed to going off-trail and they (search and rescue) canʻt find you. Then when they find you they have to go down steep ravines and gulches,” Nishihara continued.

The cost for a helicopter rescue can cost around $1,500.

The Honolulu Fire Department and some hikers were avidly against the bill, as there’s the concern that injured hikers wonʻt call for help.

According to the Honolulu Fire Department, there were 181 high-angle rescues in 2020 alone.

“A lot of hikers, they’re on a budget they donʻt have a lot going on,” said hiker Mia Benedetto, referring to the proposed fines.

“If it stops you doing a hike and calling for help then really hurting yourself, then that’s a scary factor,” she continued.

Fellow hiker Olivia Drago added, “I feel that if you already know that the hike is illegal then you still decide to do the hike, you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Drago said with the rise of accidents due to hiking related injuries, this bill would’ve provided relief for Hawaiʻi taxpayers.

The House Water and Land Committee deferred the bill on March 16.

Comparatively, with the rise of social media, other States have subjected individuals to fines for travelling off trail and damaging the natural resources.

One example in Yellowstone resulted in the offender paying $5,000, receiving two years probation and having to undertake 160 hours of community service. Another, a 20-year-old woman climbed Mount Rushmore in early 2021 and after pleading guilty to illegally climbing was fined $1,250.

In Washington state, hikers are risking a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if they hike across the border into Canada. This 2,650 mile trail that begins in Mexico leads for nine miles into the Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia.

This Pacific Crest Trail entry into Canada is 50 miles west outside of Sumas, Washington.

The consequences of intentionally crossing the borders could face not only jail time and a $5,000 fine, but a civil penalty of $5,000 for the first time violation and then $10,000 for each subsequent violation following.

A legal method for hiking northbound, and or horseback riding on this hike, from Washington to Canada is to obtain a Canada PCT Entry Permit.

Until next legislative session, taxpayers and the state will continue paying search and rescue fees for individuals who are injured off trail.

Georgia Clair Johnson-King is a 23-year-old aspiring Science Journalist...

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