Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1961

Author: John F. Kennedy  | Date: February 23, 1961

Special Message to the Congress on Natural Resources.
February 23, 1961

To the Congress of the United States:

From the beginning of civilization, every nation’s basic wealth and progress has stemmed in large measure from its natural resources. This nation has been, and is now, especially fortunate in the blessings we have inherited. Our entire society rests upon—and is dependent upon—our water, our land, our forests, and our minerals. How we use these resources influences our health, security, economy, and well-being.

But if we fail to chart a proper course of conservation and development—if we fail to use these blessings prudently—we will be in trouble within a short time. In the resource field, predictions of future use have been consistently understated. But even under conservative projections, we face a future of critical shortages and handicaps. By the year 2000, a United States population of 300 million—nearly doubled in 40 years—will need far greater supplies of farm products, timber, water, minerals, fuels, energy, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Present projections tell us that our water use will double in the next 20 years; that we are harvesting our supply of high-grade timber more rapidly than the development of new growth; that too much of our fertile topsoil is being washed away; that our minerals are being exhausted at increasing rates; and that the Nation’s remaining undeveloped areas of great natural beauty are being rapidly pre-empted for other uses.

Wise investment in a resource program today will return vast dividends tomorrow, and failures to act now may be opportunities lost forever. Our country has been generous with us in this regard—and we cannot now ignore her needs for future development.

This is not a matter of concern for only one section of the country. All those who fish and hunt, who build industrial centers, who need electricity to light their homes and lighten their burdens, who require water for home, industrial, and recreational purposes—in short, every citizen in every State of the Union—all have a stake in a sound resources program under the progressive principles of national leadership first forged by Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt, and backed by the essential cooperation of State and local governments.

This statement is designed to bring together in one message the widely scattered resource policies of the Federal Government. In the past, these policies have overlapped and often conflicted. Funds were wasted on competing efforts. Widely differing standards were applied to measure the Federal contribution to similar projects. Funds and attention devoted to annual appropriations or immediate pressures diverted energies away from long-range planning for national economic growth. Fees and user charges wholly inconsistent with each other, with value received, and with public policy have been imposed at some Federal developments.

To coordinate all of these matters among the various agencies, I will shortly issue one or more Executive Orders or directives:

(1) Redefining these responsibilities within the Executive Office and authorizing a strengthened Council of Economic Advisers to report to the President, the Congress and the public on the status of resource programs in relation to national needs;

(2) Establishing, under the Council of Economic Advisers, a Presidential Advisory Committee on Natural Resources, representingthe Federal agencies concerned in this area and seeking the advice of experts outside of government; and

(3) Instructing the Budget Director, in consultation with the Departments and agencies concerned, to formulate within the next 90 days general principles for the application of fees, permits and other user charges at all types of Federal natural resource projects or areas; and to reevaluate current standards for appraising the feasibility of water resource projects.

In addition, to provide a coordinated framework for our research programs in this area, and to chart the course for the wisest and most efficient use of the research talent and facilities we possess, I shall ask the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a thorough and broadly based study and evaluation of the present state of research underlying the conservation, development, and use of natural resources, how they are formed, replenished and may be substituted for, and giving particular attention to needs for basic research and to projects that will provide a better basis for natural resources planning and policy formulation. Pending the recommendations of the Academy, I have directed my Science Advisor and the Federal Council for Science and Technology to review ongoing Federal research activities in the field of natural resources and to determine ways to strengthen the total government research effort relating to natural resources.


Our Nation has been blessed with a bountiful supply of water; but it is not a blessing we can regard with complacency. We now use over 300 billion gallons of water a day, much of it wastefully. By 1980 we will need 600 billion gallons a day.

Our supply of water is not always consistent with our needs of time and place. Floods one day in one section may be countered in other days or in other sections by the severe water shortages which are now afflicting many Eastern urban areas and particularly critical in the West. Our available water supply must be used to give maximum benefits for all purposes—hydroelectric power, irrigation and reclamation, navigation, recreation, health, home and industry. If all areas of the country are to enjoy a balanced growth, our Federal Reclamation and other water resource programs will have to give increased attention to municipal and industrial water and power supplies as well as irrigation and land redemption; and I am so instructing the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Army.

1. Planning and Development.

A. We reject a "no new starts" policy. Such a policy denied the resource requirements and potential on which our economic growth hinges and took a heavy toll in added costs and even human life and homes by postponing essential flood control projects. I have requested the Director of the Bureau of the Budget, working with appropriate department and agency heads, to schedule a progressive, orderly program of starting new projects to meet accumulated demands, taking into account the availability of funds, and implementing with the agencies concerned, wherever possible, the very excellent and timely report of the bi-partisan Senate Select Committee on National Water Resources issued three weeks ago.

B. This Administration accepts the goal urged by the Senate Select Committee to develop comprehensive river basin plans by 1970, in cooperation with the individual States. I urge the Congress to authorizethe establishment of planning commissions for all major river basins where adequate coordinated plans are not already in existence. These commissions, on which will be represented the interested agencies at all levels of government, will be charged with the responsibility of preparing comprehensive basic development plans over the next several years.

C. A major reason for such planning is the ability to identify both the need and the location of future reservoir sites far in advance of construction. This advantage will be dissipated in great measure if the selected sites are not preserved—for uninhibited commercial and residential development in such areas increase ultimate acquisition costs and may result in pressures against the project required. I urge the Congress to enact legislation permitting the reservation of known future reservoir sites by the operating agency whenever such protection is necessary.

D. The full development of the power and other water resource potentials of the Columbia Basin is a vision that must be fulfilled. The Columbia River Joint Development Treaty with Canada is before the Senate for approval. I urge the Senate to approve this Treaty at the earliest possible time, to permit an immediate start on the immense efforts that can be jointly undertaken in power production and river control in that Basin.

E. This Administration is committed to strengthening and speeding up our flood control program as rapidly as our fiscal and technical capabilities permit. Unfortunately, efforts to reduce flood losses by constructing remedial works are being partially offset by rapid industrial and residential development of flood plain lands.

I am asking all Federal agencies concerned to provide data on flood hazards in specified areas to all 50 States, and to assist in their efforts for effective regulation or zoning of the flood plains. In addition, I have instructed the Federal agencies concerned with urban development including the Housing and Home Finance Agency and the Bureau of Public Roads—to coordinate their activities with the flood control agencies to insure that their programs utilize flood information to advantage.

F. Complementing larger downstream reservoirs in the control of flood waters are the small watershed projects which are an integral part of our soil and water conservation program, along with terracing, strip cropping, grass waterways and other erosion prevention measures. Nearly 300 million of our nation’s 460 million acres of farm crop lands still need these basic practices for preserving our water and soil resources. I have asked the Secretary of Agriculture, in cooperation with other interested Federal agencies, to review the basic objectives of our soil conservation and watershed management programs, and to make certain that any Federal assistance is directed toward realizing maximum benefits for the Nation as a whole. In addition, there should be improved coordination of the various Federal and local activities in this field.

2. Water and Air Pollution Control.

Pollution of our country’s rivers and streams has—as a result of our rapid population and industrial growth and change—reached alarming proportions. To meet all needs—domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational—we shall have to use and reuse the same water, maintaining quality as well as quantity. In many areas of the country we need new sources of supply but in all areas we must protect the supplies we have.

Current corrective efforts are not adequate.This year a national total of $350 million will be spent from all sources on municipal waste treatment works. But $600 million of construction is required annually to keep pace with the growing rate of pollution. Industry is lagging far behind in its treatment of wastes.

For a more effective water pollution control program, I propose the following—

First, I urge enactment of legislation along the general lines of H.R. 4036 and S. extending and increasing Federal financial assistance for the operation of State and interstate water pollution control agencies.

Secondly, I urge that this legislation increase the amount of Federal assistance to municipalities for construction of waste treatment facilities in order to stimulate water pollution construction in those cities with inadequate facilities.

Third, I urge that this legislation strengthen enforcement procedures to abate serious pollution situations of national significance.

Fourth, I propose an intensive and broadened research effort to determine the specific sources of water pollution and their adverse effects upon all water uses; the effects upon the health of people exposed to water pollution; and more effective means of preventing, controlling, or removing the contaminants-including radioactive matter—that now pollute our rivers and streams so that the water may be safely used.

Filth, I propose the establishment of a special unit within the Public Health Service under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where control measures to prevent and limit pollution of our water will be developed.

Sixth, this same unit should provide new leadership, research and financial and technical assistance for the control of air pollution, a serious hazard to the health of our people that causes an estimated $7.5 billion annually in damage to vegetation, livestock, metals and other materials. We need an effective Federal air pollution control program now. For although the total supply of air is vast, the atmosphere over our growing metropolitan areas—where more than half the people live—has only limited capacity to dilute and disperse the contaminants now being increasingly discharged from homes, factories, vehicles, and many other sources.

3. Saline and Brackish Water Conversion.

No water resources program is of greater long-range importance for relief not only of our shortages, but for arid nations the world over—than our efforts to find an effective and economical way to convert water from the world’s greatest, cheapest natural resources—our oceans—into water fit for consumption in the home and by industry. Such a break-through would end bitter struggles between neighbors, states, and nations—and bring new hope for millions who live out their lives in dire shortage of usable water and all its physical and economical blessings, though living on the edge of a great body of water throughout that parched life-time.

This Administration is currently engaged in redoubled efforts to select the most promising approaches to economic desalinization of ocean and brackish waters, and then focus our energies more intensively on those approaches. At my request, a panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee has been working with the Secretary of the Interior to assure the most vigorous and effective research and development program possible in this field.

I now pledge that, when this know-how is achieved, it will immediately be made available to every nation in the world who wishesit, along with appropriate technical and other assistance for its use. Indeed the United States welcomes now the cooperation of all other nations who wish to join in this effort at present.

I urge the Congress to extend the current saline water conversion research program, and to increase the funds for its continuation to a level commensurate with the effort our current studies will show to be needed—now estimated to be at least twice the level previously requested.


To keep pace with the growth of our economy and national defense requirements, expansion of this Nation’s power facilities will require intensive effort by all segments of our power industry. Through 1980, according to present estimates of the Federal Power Commission, total installed capacity should triple if we are to meet our nation’s need for essential economic growth. Sustained heavy expansion by all power suppliers—public, cooperative and private—is clearly needed.

The role of the Federal Government in supplying an important segment of this power is now long established and must continue. We will meet our responsibilities in this field.

—Hydroelectric sites remaining in this country will be utilized and hydroelectric power will be incorporated in all multiple- purpose river projects where optimum economic use of the water justifies such action.

—The Tennessee Valley Authority will continue to use the financing authority granted it by the last Congress to meet the power needs of the area it serves.

—Our efforts to achieve economically competitive nuclear power before the end of this decade in areas where fossil fuel costs are high will be encouraged through basic research, engineering developments, and construction of various prototype and full scale reactors by the Atomic Energy Commission in cooperation with industry.

—In marketing Federal power, this Administration will be guided by the following basic principles which recognize the prior rights of the general public, consumer and taxpayer who have financed the development of these great national assets originally vested in them:

(1) Preference in power sales shall be given public agencies and cooperatives.

(2) Domestic and rural consumers shall have priority over other consumers in the disposal of power.

(3) Power shall be sold at the lowest possible rates consistent with sound business principles.

(4) Power disposal shall be such as to encourage widespread use and to prevent monopolization.

Finally, I have directed the Secretary of the Interior to develop plans for the early interconnection of areas served by that Department’s marketing agencies with adequate common carrier transmission lines; to plan for further national cooperative pooling of electric power, both public and private; and to enlarge such pooling as now exists.


Our forest lands present the sharpest challenge to our foresight. Trees planted today will not reach the minimum sizes needed for lumber until the year 2000. Most projections of future timber requirements predict a doubling of current consumption within forty years. At present cutting rates, we are using up our old growth timber inWestern stands. Because of the time requirements involved, we must move now to meet anticipated future needs, and improve the productivity of our nearly 500 million acres of commercial forest land.

Unfortunately, the condition of our forest land area is substantially below par: 45 million acres are in need of reforestation; more than 150 million acres require thinnings, release cuttings and other timber stand improvement measures if growth rates are to be increased and quality timber produced; forest protection must be extended to areas now poorly protected. Losses in growth from insects and disease need to be reduced substantially by wider application of known detection and control measures.

(A) I urge the Congress to accelerate forest development on Federal public lands both as a long-term investment measure and as an immediate method of relieving unemployment in distressed areas.

(B) To make additional supplies of merchantable timber available to small businesses, I have directed the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to accelerate the program of building approved access roads to public forests.

(c) A more difficult and unresolved forest situation lies in that half of our forest land held in small private ownership’s. These lands, currently far below their productive potential, must be managed to produce a larger share of our future timber needs. Current forest owner assistance programs have proven inadequate. I am therefore directing the Secretary of Agriculture, in cooperation with appropriate Federal and state agencies, to develop a program to help small independent timber owners and processors attain better forest management standards and more efficient production and utilization of forest crops.


The Federal Government owns nearly 770 million acres of public land, much of it devoted to a variety of essential uses. But equally important are the vacant, unappropriated and unreserved public domain lands, amounting to some 477 million acres—a vital national reserve that should be devoted to productive use now and maintained for future generations.

Much of this public domain suffers from uncontrolled use and a lack of proper management. More than 100 million acres of our Federal Grazing Districts are producing livestock forage well below their potential. We can no longer afford to sit by while our public domain assets so deteriorate.

I am, therefore, directing the Secretary of the Interior to

(1) accelerate an inventory and evaluation of the nation’s public domain holdings to serve as a foundation for improved resource management;

(2) develop a program of balanced usage designed to reconcile the conflicting uses—grazing, forestry, recreation, wildlife, urban development and minerals; and

(3) accelerate the installation of soil conserving and water’ saving works and practices to reduce erosion and improve forage capacity; and to proceed with the revegetation of range lands on which the forage capacity has been badly depleted or destroyed.


The sea around us represents one of our most important but least understood and almost wholly undeveloped areas for extending our resource base. Continental shelves bordering the United States contain roughly 20 percent of our remaining reserves of crude oil and natural gas. The ocean floor containslarge and valuable deposits of cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese. Ocean waters themselves contain a wide variety of dissolved salts and minerals.

Salt (and fresh water) fisheries are among our most important but far from fully developed reservoirs of protein foods. At present levels of use, this country alone will need an additional 3 billion pounds of fish and shellfish annually by 1980, and many other countries with large-scale protein deficiency can be greatly helped by more extensive use of marine foodstuffs. But all this will require increased efforts, under Federal leadership, for rehabilitation of depleted stocks of salmon and sardines in the Pacific, ground-fish and oysters in the Atlantic, lake trout and other desirable species in the Great Lakes, and many others through biological research, development of methods for passing fish over dams, and control of pollution:

This Administration intends to give concerted attention to our whole national effort in the basic and applied research of oceanography. Construction of ship and shore facilities for ocean research and survey, the development of new instruments for charting the seas and gathering data, and the training of new scientific manpower will require the coordinated efforts of many Federal agencies. It is my intention to send to the Congress for its information and use in considering the 1962 budget, a national program for oceanography, setting forth the responsibilities and requirements of all participating government agencies.


America’s health, morale and culture have long benefited from our National Parks and Forests, and our fish and wildlife opportunities. Yet these facilities and resources are not now adequate to meet the needs of a fast-growing, more mobile population—and the millions of visitor days which are now spent in Federally-owned parks, forests, wildlife refuges and water reservoirs will triple well before the end of this century.

To meet the Federal Government’s appropriate share of the responsibility for fulfilling these needs, the following steps are essential:

(A) To protect our remaining wilderness areas, I urge the Congress to enact a wilderness protection bill along the general lines of S. 174.

(B) To improve both the quality and quantity of public recreational opportunities, I urge the Congress to enact legislation leading to the establishment of seashore and shoreline areas such as Cape Cod, Padre Island and Point Reyes for the use and enjoyment of the public. Unnecessary delay in acquiring these shores so vital to an adequate public recreation system results in tremendously increased costs.

(c) For similar reasons, I am instructing the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture and other appropriate Federal, state and local officials and private leaders to

—formulate a comprehensive Federal recreational lands program;

—conduct a survey to determine where additional national parks, forests and seashore areas should be proposed;

—take steps to insure that land acquired for the construction of Federally-financed reservoirs is sufficient to permit future development for recreational purposes; and

—establish a long-range program for planning and providing adequate open spaces for recreational facilities in urban areas.

I am also hopeful that consistent and coordinated Federal leadership can expand ourfish and wildlife opportunities without the present conflicts of agencies and interests: One department paying to have wetlands drained for agricultural purposes while another is purchasing such lands for wildlife or water fowl refuges—one agency encouraging chemical pesticides that may harm the song birds and game birds whose preservation is encouraged by another agency—conflicts between private land owners and sportsmen—uncertain responsibility for the watershed and anti-pollution programs that are vital to our fish and wildlife opportunities.

I am directing the Secretary of the Interior to take the lead, with other Federal and State officials, to end these conflicts and develop a long-range wildlife conservation program—and to accelerate the acquisition of upper midwest wetlands through the sale of Federal duck stamps.


Problems of immediacy always have the advantage of attracting notice—those that lie in the future fare poorly in the competition for attention and money. It is not a task which should or can be done by the Federal Government alone. Only through the fullest participation and cooperation of State and local governments and private industry can it be done wisely and effectively. We cannot, however, delude ourselves—we must understand our resources problems, and we must face up to them now. The task is large but it will be done.



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Chicago: John F. Kennedy, "49 Special Message to the Congress on Natural Resources.," Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1961 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.819 115–121. Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Kennedy, John F. "49 Special Message to the Congress on Natural Resources." Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1961, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.819, pp. 115–121. Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Kennedy, JF, '49 Special Message to the Congress on Natural Resources.' in Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1961. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.819, pp.115–121. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from