A bill seeking to strengthen backcountry search and rescue moved forward Thursday in the Colorado General Assembly.

The bill would provide for a study to develop recommendations on challenges faced by search and rescue volunteers, including improving training and services for volunteers.

SB20-130 Backcountry Search and Rescue in Colorado was introduced Jan. 27 and assigned to the Senate Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill’s sponsors are Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), Rep. Jim Wilson, (R-Salida) and Rep. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon).

The bill was heard by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources Thursday and referred unamended to the House Appropriations Committee by a 5-0 vote.

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Search and Rescue Association praised the Senate committee’s unanimous support for the bill, the first step as it moves through the legislative process.

A joint press release from both entities stated Colorado’s search and rescue program was originally designed for incidental backcountry rescues.

“This needed legislation supports the initial steps in redesigning the statewide Backcountry Search and Rescue program through a study and stakeholder process, as well as a pilot program to provide mental health services to Backcountry Search and Rescue (BSAR) professionals,” the release stated.

According to Colorado Search and Rescue Association, the state averages about 3,600 search and rescue incidents per year, straining search and rescue professionals, who are unpaid volunteers, and local governments charged with ensuring safety of recreationists in the backcountry.

Beth Helmke, public information officer for Chaffee County Search and Rescue South, said the proposed legislation will help evaluate demand on search and rescue teams in Colorado and better understand what’s required to meet those demands.

“Right now, there are significant inconsistencies in team resources and little aggregation of mission data across counties, which makes it difficult to capture the big-picture resource needs and impacts of SAR efforts across the state,” Helmke said.

“The work proposed in this bill would allow Colorado to take comprehensive stock of what is needed to ensure search and rescue efforts are adequately supported now and into the future.

“It is also focused on assessing models that will best support SAR team members, including mental health supports, training resources and volunteer benefits.

“It’s an important first step toward elevating the statewide SAR framework and starting to make it healthier, more effective and more sustainable,” she said.

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