Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rosalie Edge: Hawk of Mercy

Hawk Mountain -- a ridge in Pennsylvania -- used to be a place where hunters would gun down dozens of raptors in a single day and bird carcasses would litter the hillsides.  Hawks were viewed much like wolves are treated to this day -- as vicious predators -- and hunters would take shots at the birds as they followed currents over the ridge, encouraged by generous bounties paid by the states.   What was then known as the National Association of Audubon Societies (now the National Audubon Society) was slow to pay attention to the killing of raptors, prompting citizen conservationist Rosalie Edge to step in and lease the land in 1934 and turn it into a wildlife sanctuary. 

Dead raptors -- the product of a single day's hunt -- are lined up for exhibition on Hawk Mountain before Rosalie Edge took action to save this habitat from exploitation. Photo from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Rosalie Edge
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary still serves to protect wildlife and promote awareness today, but Rosalie Edge's flavor of activism probably had a more widespread legacy.  Edge founded the Emergency Conservation Committee to advocate for conservation across the United States, including Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks.  Edge chided Audubon leaders  for being influenced by special interests -- the board permitted hunting wildlife on Audubon sanctuaries and received money from hunting and sportsman interests.  Richard Pough, the founder of the Nature Conservancy, credited Edge as an inspiration for beginning his organization.

I think Edge's story provides a great window into the early days of the conservation movement, but also plenty of lessons that are still relevant today.  So I would strongly recommend reading Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy: The Activist Who Saved Nature From Conservationists.  It is an excellent book about Rosalie Edge's life and conservation efforts, and gave me plenty of food for thought about today's efforts to save treasured wild places, and the importance of maintaining a conservation ethic free from influence by special interest groups.

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