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Bill Would Give NH Park Rangers Anti-Racism, De-escalation Training

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State legislators backing the Inclusive Outdoors Act say it would bring greater awareness of the need to make all people feel welcome in New Hampshire's state parks and public outdoor spaces. (Wikimedia Commons)
State legislators backing the Inclusive Outdoors Act say it would bring greater awareness of the need to make all people feel welcome in New Hampshire's state parks and public outdoor spaces. (Wikimedia Commons)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
February 17, 2021

MILFORD, N.H. - New Hampshire lawmakers are proposing a new bill, the Inclusive Outdoors Act, to require conservation officers to be trained for civil-rights enforcement, anti-racism and de-escalation.

With many people restricted from gathering indoors, they're making use of the Granite State's parks and other outdoor spaces more than ever. State Rep. Maria Perez, D-Milford, said she's experienced racism in her community's outdoor areas and wants to make sure they are welcoming environments.

"People coming and visiting our parks and recreational areas is bringing a lot of revenue to our state," she said, "but I just want to make sure that when we welcome these people, that everyone feels like they're part of the community, they don't feel segregated."

Last year, leaders with New Hampshire Audubon found white-supremacist vandalism at their Concord Sanctuary. The bill would establish a database for tracking these types of instances, and its backers hope it also would make people more comfortable reporting them.

Supporters of the bill have acknowledged that it won't end racism in outdoor public spaces, but say it will send a message that the state is being intentional about trying to combat it. Perez said she hopes the trainings will help more public officials understand the harm caused to New Hampshire's residents of color.

"As an immigrant and as people of color myself, we go through discrimination," she said. "And a lot of times, police officers don't know how to handle the situation."

Close to 70% of visitors to national forests, wildlife refuges and parks are white. During this health crisis, Perez said it's all the more important to make sure people feel safe as they're taking advantage of the beautiful outdoor spaces New Hampshire has to offer.

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