The province lessened some of the strain on self-funded search and rescue groups across the Sea to Sky this week with the announcement of more than $680,000 to five volunteer organizations over the next two years.
The money is part of Victoria's $10-million, one-time funding commitment to the BC Search and Rescue Association first announced in January. Funding allocations were determined according to the needs of local ground search and rescue teams and are intended to bolster training, administrative support and equipment renewals.
"The Sea to Sky is a West Coast outdoor recreation hotspot, and the popularity of backcountry types of activities has led to a rise in the number of calls for search and rescue services," said West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy in a release. "The Sea to Sky is lucky to have such dedicated, experienced and skilled rescue teams (that), on short notice, will dispatch in all conditions to support people in trouble. This significant one-time funding will ensure these organizations and their volunteers have available the training and equipment they need to keep providing the unlucky or unfortunate high-quality rescue services."
Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) is to receive $72,093 in 2016, and the same amount next year, money that will go towards upgrading the group's backcountry communications system and replacing its long-line rescue kit.
WSAR manager Brad Sills explained how the new radio tower would assist the organization's rescue efforts in the busy backcountry.
"Let's say we had an operation in the valley and then we had one on Powder Mountain, we could only talk to one of those teams on the radio," he said. "So this would link up the three repeaters so that everybody could hear everything all of the time."
About 40 per cent of the rescues currently performed by WSAR are in areas of the valley with no communication coverage. The group is aiming to have the upgraded communications system installed by the time the Spearhead Huts are opened to the public, planned for winter 2018. The estimated remaining cost of the project is $275,000, Sills said.
The province also announced $122,862 spread over two years to Pemberton Search and Rescue (PSAR).
"We are looking at making improvements to our communications systems, replacing and upgrading some of our rescue equipment, and making some much-needed improvements to our base structures," PSAR manager Dave Steers said.
Elsewhere in the Sea to Sky, Squamish Search and Rescue will receive $100,000 this year, while Lions Bay Search and Rescue will get $58,501 and $48,020 will go to Sunshine Coast Search and Rescue.
While he applauded the move by the province, Sills said he'd like to see a more stable, long-term funding model for the 80 search and rescue teams in B.C.
"The world's moving towards more and more regulation and it's hitting search and rescue too. Our swiftwater team needs to be recertified every year, our (Helicopter External Transport System) team needs to be recertified every year, our rope teams need to be recertified every year — all these things cost money," he said.
Like all SAR groups in the province, Whistler Search and Rescue relies heavily on fundraising, and operates on a budget of about $150,000 a year.
Sills is hopeful the sudden windfall of provincial funds doesn't discourage the public from continuing to support local SAR groups.
"While this money is a beautiful thing in the short term to allow search and rescue groups to initiate or complete projects they wouldn't have been able to complete at the current level of funding, it does not replace the money that we get from the public," he said.