Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Marcus Huff
Staff Writer 

Hayduke's final fist in the wilderness

Grizzly advocate Doug Peacock fights bear delisting

 

December 16, 2017

COURTESY/Doug Peacock

Doug Peacock in Montana on a bear tracking trip in 2002.

EMIGRANT, MONT. – "You know, this used to be fun," observed Doug Peacock from his home overlooking the Yellowstone River in Montana. "We had lots of chuckles around the campfire, imagining just how bad it could get, and man, we are here. It's now. Whether it's shrinking Bears Ears [National Monument] or fracking all over the West, these people are going after everything life-based. It's all coming apart."

For Peacock, 75, the trail to becoming an environmental movement pioneer and voice for the American grizzly bear has been long and ragged, and started in the jungles of Vietnam.

OPEN MAPS, OPEN

SPACES

In 1967, Peacock, an avid outdoorsman from Michigan, found himself serving as a Green Beret medic, stitching up Montagnard fighters in the mountains of Vietnam. Slowly becoming disenchanted with the death and destruction all around, the soldier found solace in a few old maps and a Wyoming guidebook he kept in his rucksack.

"I studied it over and over and became entranced by the openness of it all ... all of the space," remembers Peacock. "I sat there in the jungle and said 'man if I get out of here alive, that's where I'm going'."

Returning to the United States in 1968, after witnessing the horrors of the massacre at My Lai and having attended countless broken and blown-up bodies during combat, Peacock strapped on a pack and headed directly for Wyoming's Wind River Range, seeking solitude and some headspace.

Spending three months alone, fighting malaria and "shell shock" (post-traumatic stress disorder was not yet a widely-used term), Peacock finally emerged from the Wind River, and started hiking toward Yellowstone National Park.

"I got so damn tired of eating golden trout, I had to get out of there," laughs Peacock, years later. "Can you even imagine getting tired of trout?"

Inside Yellowstone, and still evading human contact, Peacock would stumble into an adventure that would carry him through the rest of his life, and offer some calm where others would find fright.

PAWS AND A CAUSE

While exploring Yellowstone alone, and taking in the hot mineral baths and swimming in the cold water of the Yellowstone River, Peacock came into contact with his first grizzly. After evading the beast by climbing a tree, cold and naked, Peacock became more interested in the animal than expected.

Eventually, the interloper started observing, then following, then practically became adopted by the Yellowstone grizzlies, and perhaps fighting his own war, Peacock vowed to learn all he could about the animals, and protect them with every weapon at his disposal, which, over the next 50 years, became activism and speaking and writing.

While travelling the American West, learning more and speaking out often about issues that affected the environment and his adopted bear brothers, Peacock became acquainted with Edward Abbey, then a modestly successful author and full-time Forest Service employee.

The two would become fast friends, and together would write a chapter in American history that would start a movement, if not an entire shift in environmental thinking.

MONKEYS AND

WRENCHES

"Ed [Abbey] told me he was working on this book, and I was no writer, but I sad "yeah, I'll help you out with that,'" said Peacock, about Abbey's infamous novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang."

But instead of seeking literary advice, Abbey took Peacock's knowledge of guerilla tactics, explosives and violent defense of the environment and created the character of George Washington Hayduke, a burly, beer-swigging, ex-Green Beret that, along with the other members of the Monkey Wrench Gang, burned, destroyed, vandalized and blew up anything that resembled "progress" in the West, including railroad tracks, bulldozers, billboards, and as an ultimate goal, Arizona's Glen Canyon Dam.

When the book was published in 1975, the only thing that blew up was the two friends' long-standing relationship.

"It was tough on our friendship for about a year," remembers Peacock. "We finally climbed to a mountaintop and burned a legal letter his publisher had demanded he write, then came down and everything was fine."

The book, despite being satirical in tone, struck a note with people and became a cult-favorite. Soon, environmental sabotage became more common, with bulldozers and billboards destroyed in the middle of the night and movements such as Earth First! springing up across the country. Hayduke became an icon of the movement, and Hayduke Lives! became a battle cry.

Peacock, still following his bears and fighting for their singular cause, never felt the need to live up to the character of Hayduke, or take on a persona to fit the stereotype.

"I never really let it shape me in any way, you know," said Peacock. "I just got used to it and finally kind of embraced it."

After the death of Abbey in 1989, his final manuscript was published in 1990, detailing the final adventures of the Monkey Wrench Gang, and closing a chapter on the myth.

At the same time, Peacock finished writing his memoirs of spending his life chasing the grizzly, and his efforts to preserve their way of life. The book became "Grizzly Years," an immediate standard for the study of the grizzly. Today, those efforts seem more in need than ever, in Peacock's view.

THE NEW BATTLEFIELD

While the grizzly bear has been under federal protection since 1975 under the Endangered Species Act, the removal of the animal in 2016 opened up the possibility of trophy hunting the animal outside the boundaries of Yellowstone Park, in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The move drove Peacock, now a Guggenheim fellow and acknowledged expert, to write to President Barack Obama in June 2016, asking for further study to be done to protect the Yellowstone population (some 700 bears) from being hunted when they naturally stray from Yellowstone boundaries.

Peacock's letter was co-signed by a long list of environmental activists and celebrities, including Jane Goodall, Yvon Chouinard, Harrison Ford, Jeff Bridges and Ted Turner.

"We had some pretty good luck [with the letter] and managed to stop hunting for this year, but they are really coming at it hard now, and we are going to have to do something different," noted Peacock.

While engaged in a lawsuit to try and overturn the grizzly delisting, Peacock feels a change also needs to happen within our culture.

"We need hope, which is hard to find these days," says Peacock. "I have friends who have been fighting this noble fight for years and they've never felt lower. You've got all these 'haves' stealing from the 'have nots' and it all seems to be driven by greed. I'm not sure I still understand the mechanism or who is involved."

THE RIFLEMAN AND THE FUTURE

One agency Peacock can identify as forcing a change is the National Rifle Association, who, along with Safari Club International are asking for federal protections on Yellowstone grizzly hunting be lifted, citing increased economic impact at a local level, and for safety reasons.

"I've been a hunter my whole life and I'm a veteran but I could never get around joining the NRA," said Peacock, "and now I know why. They're acting like a bunch of g-damn bullies. Look, these people can smell the collapse of the resistance and they want to slap us like a beaver tail on a stump. If they get away with everything they want to get away with, they're endangering all of us, the two-legged not excepted."

While Peacock is encouraged that so many people have taken up the grizzly cause, he views the entire movement as a whole as needing some inspiration, which is one reason he is working with movie directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman to bring "The Monkey Wrench Gang" to the big screen.

"I worked with Ed [Abbey] on that script and we always thought it would make a good film but people get real nervous about showing people blowing bulldozers and whatever, I don't know," noted Peacock.

"But I think it's OK. I think it's time they look up on the screen and see Hayduke and think, 'yeah, we need to do something'. If not we are looking at a long, dark path."

 
 

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