Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill To Abolish the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
I HAVE WITHHELD my approval from H.R. 4362, "To abolish the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Essex County, Massachusetts, to authorize and direct the restoration to the former owners of the land comprising such refuge, and for other purposes," because in my opinion it would not be in the public interest to authorize the abandonment of this national wildlife refuge and, in any event, because the measure does not provide workable or equitable procedures for the restoration to the former owners of the lands in question.
The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in order to fill a serious gap in the National refuge system for waterfowl and other birds. Because of the position of the coastal section of the State of Massachusetts on the migratory route of these birds, the location of a national refuge in that section is directly related to the accomplishment of the national program for the protection of migratory birds, as authorized by statute and international treaty. The Parker River refuge is of real value, not only as a nesting and feeding area, but also as a breeding ground and wintering place, for several economically important species of game birds which are sought after by hunters in Massachusetts and many other States. Its site was selected only after a careful survey of the entire region for the purpose of determining the particular location best fitted for carrying out the protection program in that region. The need for a national wildlife refuge on the coast of Massachusetts, and the suitability of the Parker River area for refuge purposes are supported by convincing scientific data, as well as by the opinions of outstanding biologists and wildlife conservationists.
I am advised that the Secretary of the Interior on June 12, 1945, conducted a formal hearing with a view to affording an opportunity to those opposed to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to present their objections. The findings of the Secretary, which include a review of the history of the refuge and a discussion of the issues presented, failed to disclose any real basis for the abandonment of the refuge. Subsequent hearings before the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives indicated that, although certain individuals and organizations in the State of Massachusetts favored the abolishment of this refuge, others were strongly of the view that it should be retained in Federal control. The usefulness of the refuge, both locally and nationally, because of its strategic location with respect to the Atlantic flyway, was also stressed by national conservation organizations.
The acquisition of lands for migratory waterfowl refuges was authorized by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of February 18, 1929 (45 Stat. 1222; 16 U.S.C. secs. 715-715r), as amended, and, in accordance with such authorization, a national refuge system has been in the process of establishment for some 15 years. As a condition precedent to the acquisition of the lands for migratory waterfowl purposes, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act requires (a) that the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approve all of such acquisitions, and (b) that the State in which the lands are to be acquired shall have consented by law to the acquisition of such lands. Proceeding in accordance with the requirements of the act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved the acquisition of the lands for the Parker River' National Wildlife Refuge by actions of September 27, 1940, March 25, 1941, January 27, 1942, January 27 and December 10, 1943, and December 5, 1944' The State of Massachusetts previously had given its consent to the establishment of the refuge through its enabling act of April 7, 1931, which subsequently was amended in 1941 to require prior approval of such action by the Commissioner of Conservation. The approval of the Commissioner, though probably not necessary in view of the fact that the initial steps had been taken under authority of the earlier act, was obtained.
Acquisition of the lands for the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge began in 1940 and continued through the year 1944 when an action to acquire all of the remaining lands in the refuge area by condemnation was filed on December 30, 1944. Steps to acquire the lands through the institution of condemnation proceedings were taken primarily because of the almost insurmountable difficulties involved in the acquisition of nearly 500 small tracts of land, the ownership of many of which is unknown, through direct purchase. In the interest of both the former landowners and of the United States, a declaration of taking also was filed in the proceeding and the estimated value of the lands taken was deposited with the clerk of the court for the benefit of such former owners.
While title to all the property included in the condemnation action now is vested in the United States, the question of who formerly owned the individual tracts is a matter entirely within the jurisdiction of the District Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts. The corollary questions of who is entitled to compensation for the taking of each tract, and who would be entitled to a reconveyance of each tract, as proposed by the bill, are also matters entirely within the jurisdiction of the District Court. Until these questions have been judicially determined with respect to all the many tracts of unknown or uncertain ownership involved in the condemnation proceeding, it would be impossible for the Secretary of the Interior to act in accordance with the provisions of section 3(a) of the bill, requiring the reconveyance of title to the former landowners within a fixed time.
Moneys for the acquisition and development of the lands for the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, as for many other similar refuges, are obtained from the special fund known as the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. Although this fund represents the amount paid annually by all hunters of migratory birds, the bill makes no provision for the return to the fund of the purchase price of the lands that would be reconveyed under the bill. Nor is any provision made for the recoupment of the value of improvements placed on these lands at the expense of the fund. Since the refuge was established for the protection of several species of migratory birds which annually are hunted by many persons along the Atlantic coast, and since the costs of its establishment are borne by all hunters of migratory birds, these omissions are clearly inequitable.
The Secretary of the Interior, at my request, is undertaking a study of the boundaries of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge with a view to ascertaining whether some of the lands might not be eliminated without impairing the fundamental purposes of the refuge.
For these reasons I feel it is my duty to withhold approval from H.R. 4362.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
Harry S. Truman, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill To Abolish the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232054