Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 907, Folder: "Appleton, Wisconsin, 11 March 1960".
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Of the many critical domestic problems which will face this nation in the next decade, few are as important to the people of Wisconsin as the conservation and development of our natural resources.
Large and productive forests cover one-half the area of your state. Your rivers - your lakes - your trees - and your soil are Wisconsin's most important assets.
This great natural abundance and beauty has made Wisconsin one of the great farm and dairy states - the center of America's paper industry - and a land of unparalleled opportunity for recreation. From all over the nation, Americans come to Wisconsin for rest - for hunting - for fishing - and for recreation on your many lakes and rivers. In so doing they have made the tourist business your third most important industry and contributed millions of dollars to your economy.
Thus the conservation of our great natural resources - those resources on which much of your economy depends - is a matter of vital interest to all the people of Wisconsin. But the problem of resource development is not merely restricted to Wisconsin - or even to the West and Midwest - it is a vital national problem. "The conservation of our natural resources, and their proper use," said President Theodore Roosevelt, "constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life." Thus, it is appropriate that it was two great Easterners - Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt - who saw in the great untapped abundance of our natural resources the true source of American greatness.
Yet - despite the historic importance of these resources - despite the growing need of a growing America for more food, more water, more timber, more space for recreation, and more minerals - despite the critical challenge to our economic strength from our enemies abroad - over the past eight years we have compiled a record of timidity and neglect in the development of our natural resources - an inexcusable record - a record which the next Administration - a Democratic Administration - must - and will - reverse.
And one of the most important and flagrant examples of this neglect has been the steady erosion of our priceless heritage of natural beauty: a source of enjoyment for millions - and a source of income for millions more. Already 30 million American families - more than 50% of all our families - take at least one vacation trip each year. In the sixties - as our population expands to new highs - as our cities become even more crowded - millions more will search for opportunities for recreation, and pleasure, and relief from urban living. Only by acting now to preserve our forests, our lakes, our rivers, our fish and our wildlife - can we assure the families of the sixties of their chance to enjoy the recreation and the beauty which has been the historic heritage of every American.
Yet - despite this pressing need for immediate action - despite this growing deterioration of our natural resources - despite the pressures of population growth - we have - in the past several years - consistently failed to support the research programs - the forestry programs - and the pollution control programs - which are absolutely essential to the vitality of a tourist industry which contributes 20 billion dollars a year to the nation's economy - and incalculable sums to our continued health as a people. We must reverse these policies in the years to come.
First, we need a greatly increased effort to preserve and replenish the fish which inhabit our inland lakes and rivers - to halt the steady deterioration of our fishing reserves - which are a source of pleasure to millions of Americans and which support a large and prosperous industry. The Department of Interior - in a letter discussing the problems of fish management in Wisconsin's Burnett County - recently pointed out that we lacked the basic techniques for the control of harmful rough fish - such as carp and stunted blue-gills - techniques which are absolutely essential if the fishing problems in Burnett County - and in much of the country - are to be properly dealt with - techniques which modern science has the capacity to perfect. The Federal Government has recently recognized its responsibility to develop modern, scientific techniques of fish management by opening a small Fish Control Laboratory in LaCrosse. But this effort comes years after the need for new research and development became apparent - years after the fishing in many lakes and streams has been destroyed - and it comes as a disappointingly small part of the total effort which is needed if we are to preserve and develop our great inland fishing resource.
Secondly, we need to halt the growing deterioration of our national forests. These huge forests - blanketing much of the Western United States - are one of our most important sources of recreation - of hunting - of fishing - of camping - and of the enjoyment of natural beauty. The Secretary of Agriculture has outlined a minimum program for preserving this great natural resource - and yet his own Administration has refused to ask for more than fifty per cent of this absolute minimum. Your own Forest Products Research Laboratory at Madison - the laboratory which produced the plywood for World War II gliders - whose research has established a wood plastics industry that supports 18 factories - and which has returned $70 to the government in taxes for every dollar it has spent - that vital laboratory is being operated at only 50% of capacity. Its vital work is being starved for lack of funds, and lack of vision, and lack of leadership. We need to renew our research - and expand our forest program - if we are to halt the misuse - the waste - and the growing decline of our vast and abundant national forests.
We must also act now to stop the destructive filthying of our lakes and rivers - a growing contamination which is destroying vitally needed recreational areas. Last year the beaches of Milwaukee were closed because the water was polluted and unsafe. Wisconsin alone has 50,000 vacation cottages representing $50 million in vacation income to your economy. Yet many of these cottages and summer houses are located along lakes and rivers threatened by water pollution - pollution which will destroy their beauty - kill their fish - make them unsafe for swimming - and destroy vitally needed water supplies as effectively as drought. Despite this growing crisis in water the Administration has vetoed Congress' efforts to deal with this problem - it has rejected the important water pollution control program which was our one real hope of solving the pollution problem. Our next administration must support and encourage - not destroy - this program - if we are to halt the destructive and dangerous contamination of our water supply.
These failures - and many like them - in the preservation of our great recreational abundance - are only a small part of our recent failures to develop the resources of the nation. They have been produced by policies of little vision - policies of false economy - policies which view a dollar saved now as more important than an investment in our future strength - our future needs - our future health - and our future greatness. As a result, we have piled up an enormous deficit in wasted resources - lost recreational areas - destroyed natural beauty - contaminated water - and diminished stocks of wildlife and fish.
The elimination of this deficit is one of the great challenges of the sixties. To meet this challenge we must have vision and strength - we must summon all our resources - the resources of mind and will - and the resources which lie beneath the earth, and in our forests, and in our great rivers and lakes - those resources on which we have built a great nation, those resources on which our continued greatness depends.