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In His Own Words: When equestrians complained, the state responded

Editorial Board on Tuesday, October 12, 2010, with Republican State Senator David Boutin, who is running for re-election in District 16.

Editorial Board on Tuesday, October 12, 2010, with Republican State Senator David Boutin, who is running for re-election in District 16.

Republican Sen. David Boutin of Hooksett recently wrote to the head of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development about his agency’s new rules. Here’s what he said:

To Commissioner Jeffrey Rose: I would like to thank you for your department’s response to the widespread public outcry over the proposed rule changes for DRED property. State government should be responsive to the people it serves, and you have been willing to not only listen to the people, but rewrite DRED’s proposal for the better.

The changes originally proposed by DRED earlier this fall would have severely restricted public access and use of New Hampshire’s 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 reverse that assumption, and limit horseback riding only to those public trails specifically marked by the state officials. Such micro-management 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 845 of 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 cutting 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 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 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.

You have gone 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 you have helped craft 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.

I understand you’ve formed a new citizens’ committee of horse owners to keep DRED in touch with how state policies impact horse owners.

The latest public forums on parks rules, held this week in Concord, show how we can better manage New Hampshire’s natural resources by capturing the passion and expertise of Granite Staters.

Your department’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.

(Sen. David Boutin is a Republican. His district includes Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Manchester Wards 1, 2 and 12.)

The real problem is that this rule was proposed in the first place. Some one with some common sense should have read it before it was published.

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