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December 25. 2013 11:08PM

Sen. David Boutin: Kudos to DRED for taking citizen complaints seriously

TO HOLD OUR state officials accountable, we should not only scold them when they do something wrong, but praise them when they do something right. The Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) recently gave us a chance to do both.

This fall, DRED proposed a series of new restrictions on how people could access our state parks. These unreasonable regulations were particularly out of touch with the needs of New Hampshire's horse owners, who felt like they were being told to keep off public lands.

My concerns with the new rules centered on preserving public access and improving public safety. New Hampshire values multiple use of public lands. Unless otherwise posted, we assume both public and private land is available for hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding and all of the other outdoor activities we enjoy. The rules proposed by DRED would have reversed that assumption, limiting horseback riding only to those public trails specifically marked by the state officials.

Such micromanagement is unwise and contrary to our tradition of responsible stewardship. We entrust those who use our state parks to help preserve and protect them.

Quite frankly, I don't do a lot of horseback riding. So I'm incredibly grateful that one of my constituents, Susan Cassidy, shared her concerns about the new rules with me.

Susan lives in Candia, and her property abuts an old railroad bed that makes for a great trail for horseback riding. It's so perfect for horses that Susan bought the property with the intent of building a horse barn and pastures. If approved as originally drafted, the new rules would have cut her off from the trails behind her house, and cut her property values considerably.

The other big problem was safety. The new rules would have forced riders to dismount whenever their horses, let's say, fertilized the trail. I do know enough about horses to know that potty-training is not an option and that forcing riders to dismount on uneven terrain in the middle of the woods is simply unsafe.

Responsible horse owners clean up after their animals in open areas such as fields and parking lots. And many make an effort to kick waste off the trail when possible. But restrictions on horses pooping in the woods have been unenforced for decades, and we're not going to start telling horses where they can and can't go with a stroke of the pen.

It was Susan who brought these problems to my attention and who helped organize New Hampshire's equestrian community in opposition to these new restrictions on park access.

When faced with such an outcry, many a bureaucrat will get defensive or evasive. But both the Parks and Forests Divisions responded admirably, scheduling public hearings across the state and incorporating the public's input into your rules.

DRED went above and beyond the legal requirements for public disclosure, and that leads to a better decisions.

Open government is vital to New Hampshire's civic life. The new rules that DRED crafted will not only lead to safer, more accessible state parks, but show other departments how the rulemaking process should work.

I think some good will come out of this process. The state's equestrian community will certainly be more active and engaged. A new citizens' committee of horse owners will keep DRED in touch with how state policies affect them.

I want to thank Commissioner Jeff Rose and his staff for their swift response to the public outcry over these rules. The public forums held earlier this month show how we can better manage New Hampshire's natural resources by capturing the passion and expertise of Granite Staters. DRED's professionalism, courtesy and willingness to listen and adapt have turned a bureaucratic snafu into an object lesson on the value of an open and responsive government. The Department was not only willing to listen to the peoples' concerns, but actually used that feedback to craft a better policy.

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Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican, represents Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Wards 1, 2 and 12 in Manchester.


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