The creation of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania has been one of the most significant private conservation success stories to date. Prior to its existence, each autumn an army of hunters waited atop this strategically located high promontory in Pennsylvania, waiting for the south-bound fall migration of hawks, falcons and eagles – heavy-bodied birds that soar and ride along mountain ridges on the warm air thermals and updrafts. As these birds passed Hawk Mountain, the gunners would blast the hawks out of the sky for “sport,” marksmanship, and the belief that they were doing good by killing the predators that fed on gamebirds and songbirds. Indeed, they were encouraged to kill hawks by bounties paid by government fish and game agencies.
Early conservationists’ pleas to halt the slaughter fell on deaf ears. Hawks and eagles were viewed by most as vermin to be eliminated. Receiving little positive response from sportsmen’s groups, wildlife societies or government agencies, Rosalie Edge, who had led the struggle to protect the birds, turned to private action. In 1934, she purchased the mountaintop, created the world’s first hawk sanctuary, posted it, and hired a biologist/warden to patrol and protect it and the birds. Today, over 70,000 people visit the mountain annually to watch and photograph the procession of thousands of migrating hawks and eagles. Mrs. Edge proved that, even when the government is subsidizing environmental destruction, one person with a vision and a little money can affect human behavior for the better through voluntary action and the institution of private property.