STATEMENT OF MICHAEL VASHRO, PRICKLY PEAR SPORTSMEN

We thank you, Senator Baucus, for this opportunity to speak this afternoon on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1998. My name is Mike Vashro, and I'm representing the Prickly Pear Sportsmen's Association.

The Prickly Pear Sportsmen's Association is a greater Helena area rod and gun club dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife resources in Montana. The sportsmen and women of our organization are active hunters and anglers, and our club frequently engages in efforts to improve and protect fish and wildlife habitat on public and private lands.

The idea of creating a fish and wildlife habitat trust fund from assets now held by the public around Canyon Ferry Reservoir came from within our organization. Members of our organization have considerable experience in the creation and administration of fish and wildlife conservation trust funds.

The lands in question around Canyon Ferry Reservoir are presently a public asset of considerable economic value. Although their value as wildlife habitat have been diminished, their value as an asset with the potential to positively impact wildlife habitat, the preservation of agricultural land, and the retention of open space protection remains substantial.

The representatives of our organization shared the concept of a wildlife habitat/land conservation trust fund with the Canyon Ferry property owners as a way of converting a publicly held land asset, the cabin lease lands, into a land trust dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of wildlife habitat. This concept met the needs of the property owners and, in the opinion of the Prickly Pear Sportsmen's Association, also met the trust -- the public trust responsibility associated with publicly held assets.

We appreciate the attention this proposal has received from the Montana Congressional Delegation. You have all been very responsive. Our enthusiasm for this idea remains high and is anchored in two features that must be retained as this legislation moves through Congress: The first, the purpose of the trust must remain focused on protection of fish and wildlife habitat; and the second is, the trustees of the fund likewise need to be representatives clearly dedicated to the purpose of the trust.

The Prickly Pear Sportsmen's Association also supports the idea in the legislation advanced by Senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns to create a second trust dedicated to gaining access to public lands. The access trust, like the land trust, must be focused and administered similar to the terms outlined for the land conservation trust. If these conditions are guaranteed, our organization believes that the public interest will be served; wildlife habitat, agricultural land, and open space will be protected; and the property ownership around Canyon Ferry will be equitably resolved.

Our organization's commitment to the principles outlined in this testimony is not casual. We recognize that there will only be one chance to deal with this public asset now held by the Federal Government at Canyon Ferry. To put this asset at risk by being either casual or vague about the use of the funds to be generated by sale of the cabin sites is a risk our organization is not willing to take.

Therefore, we offer our support to the effort being made in this legislation sponsored by Senators Baucus and Burns. We suggest the language in the legislation addressing the purpose of these trusts and the makeup of the entities that will administer them be given close and constant attention as the legislative process continues. Thank you.

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