STATEMENT OF WILLIAM ORSELLO, MONTANA WILDLIFE FEDERATION

Mr. Orsello. I wish to first thank Senator Max Baucus for being present. I wish to also thank him for the invitation and the opportunity to testify on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1998, Senate Bill 1913. The presence of Senator Baucus here demonstrates his concern for the lessees, wildlife conservation, and the interests of Montana sportsmen.

My name is Bill Orsello, and I am here as a representative of the Montana Wildlife Federation, comprised of 7500 member and 21 affiliate clubs. I am also here as a concerned hunter, angler, parent, and outdoor recreationist.

The Montana Wildlife Federation recognizes the complexity of drafting legislation that attempts to solve a problem, the loss of wildlife habitat and the concerns of the lessees, that has existed since the 1950s. The Montana Wildlife Federation applauds and supports the Senator's bill for the exchange of these public lands.

We feel that Senate Bill 1913's success depends on five features: One, the exchange of public lands that have had their wildlife value diminished by the construction of cabins, elaborate homes, and landscaping for the ability to acquire lands, access, and conservation easements that have equal or greater wildlife and recreational values. Number two, non-developed recreational opportunities have been lost, and they should not be replaced by developed recreational opportunities. Primitive habitat was lost, and it should not be replaced with developed habitat. This must be a land related values exchange.

Number three, the creation of two endowments or trust funds that will only be used to guarantee the preservation of wildlife habitat and wildlife recreational opportunities in Montana. Number four, that any trust funds developed from this exchange be administered by Montana representatives dedicated to the perpetuation and conservation of wildlife, public access to public resources, and the preservation of our hunting and fishing heritage.

And lastly, number five, we believe that Montana's wildlife and sports persons are best served by decisions formulated at the local and state level for the dispersal of the funds generated by the endowments. The intimate, on-the-ground knowledge of local wildlife and sports persons' needs would only be diluted by transferring the decision-making process to a national influence.

We feel uncompromisingly that this bill must stay on track with its original intent to create an exchange of degraded public properties with properties that will have a long-term benefit to the public and the preservation of wildlife habitat.

Any attempt to modify this bill or redirect monies generated from the exchange for programs, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or projects not benefiting the enhancement of wildlife habitat and the greater public wildlife oriented recreational opportunities, will create many adversaries. We feel this proposal has a delicate balance; it only works if it is an exchange of diminished wildlife value land for useful public lands with high wildlife values. This bill must ensure that the funds generated from lost publicly held assets are used to replace those assets with accessible lands, benefits to wildlife, and public recreational opportunities within the immediate geographical area.

The Montana Wildlife Federation remains enthusiastic toward the passage of Senate Bill 1913 and feels the bill will help preserve Montana's hunting and fishing heritage for future generations, if it is held intact and uncompromised.

I reiterate, this proposal must ensure that funds generated from the exchange of our public lands, our public assets, must be used to replace those assets with publicly accessible lands in Montana, wildlife habitat in Montana, and public wildlife opportunities in Montana, preferably in the immediate geographical area.

Again, we applaud and thank Senator Baucus for his efforts.