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The Free Market and Hawks

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Rosalie Barrow Edge should be considered a hero to libertarians and conservationists alike. In 1933, she founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania. At a time in our country’s history when the economy was a shambles and socialism was hip, Edge managed to establish the first refuge for hawks in the world — without the aid of government.

In the 1920s and 30s, attitudes towards wildlife were different than they are today. Vegetarianism was not common, fur was not frowned upon, and hunting was more widely accepted. Birds of prey were considered pests and vermin instead of the beautiful and graceful creatures that they are. They killed farmer’s poultry and were known to eat the songbirds that many people tried to attract to their yards. The Pennsylvania Game Commission even had a bounty of $5 per bird for Northern Goshawks, a woodland hawk. Because of these attitudes, hawks were killed indiscriminately.

What is now North Lookout on Hawk Mountain used to be a shotgunner’s delight. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (HMS) sits atop the Kittatiny Ridge in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, a major flyway for migrating hawks. As hawks migrate south, they are funneled into large concentrations when they encounter the Kittatiny, following it south in sometimes uncountable numbers. The North Lookout provided the perfect place for hunters to meet and practice their shooting skills on hawks before the hunting season started. The number of hawks killed there was astounding. The archives at HMS contain photos of row upon row of dead hawks lined upon the ground from a single day’s kill.

It was at a meeting of the Hawk and Owl Society in New York in 1933 that would mark the end of the slaughter. Richard Pough, an ornithologist from Philadelphia who had first discovered the killings, lectured before the society, presenting his photographs of the grisly scene to the society’s members. It was that lecture that motivated Rosalie Edge to take action.

Edge had started her own society, the Emergency Conservation Committee (ECC), to enlighten the public about the plight of the environment. Through the ECC, she raised $600 to buy an option on the 1,400 acres that would eventually become HMS. By 1935, she had raised the $3,500 needed to buy the land outright — a lot of money at that time, especially during the Great Depression.

Today, HMS is one of the premier hawk-watching sites in the world. 70,000 people visit it every year to see the 18,000 hawks that fly past North Lookout during the fall. HMS has a full-time staff of 16, as well as a cadre of interns and visiting scholars who come from around the globe to use the research facilities there. All of this is supported by voluntary donations, user fees (entry is $7 in the fall), and membership fees ($35 for individuals, $40 for families). Last year, HMS had 10,000 dues-paying members. Membership benefits include access to the sanctuary, a subscription to HMS’s magazine, a discount at the sanctuary’s bookstore, invitations to classes and lectures, and a members-only campground.

All of this would not be possible without the charitable efforts of Rosalie Barrow Edge. Her willingness to devote her time and resources to a cause for which she cared deeply resulted in something so special that certainly even she could not foresee what HMS would become. The success of HMS is shining, glorious evidence that the free-market and private conservation is an effective, viable alternative to public ownership of land and government command-and-control of the environment.

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    Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.