Grizzlies Saved His Life

When Doug Peacock returned from the Vietnam War, he sought refuge in the American wilderness. Among the great bears, he began to heal. Watch his story.

Earthjustice attorneys delivered oral arguments in federal court on Aug. 30 to defend the grizzlies, just two days before Wyoming’s trophy hunt were set to begin.

A temporary restraining order temporarily halted the hunts for nearly a month. Then, on Sept. 24, the court issued its ruling, finding that the Trump administration’s decision to strip Endangered Species Act protections from the population was illegal. Federal safeguards for Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears were reinstated. The decision spares the grizzlies from the planned trophy hunt.

Our clients: The Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association.

Read an excerpt from Doug Peacock’s legal declaration, submitted on Jan. 8, 2018. Doug is a declarant in Earthjustice’s lawsuit, filed in response to the federal government’s illegal decision to strip Yellowstone’s grizzly bears of Endangered Species Act protections.

“For more than 49 years — since I returned from the Vietnam War — grizzly bears have played a central role in my life.

“I served as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War through two tours of duty as a combat medic stationed in the country’s highlands among the indigenous Montagnard people, who functioned as my command’s mountain troops. I spent much of that time providing emergency medical care to the critically injured, many of them women and children.

“One of the things that got me through that experience was a road map of Wyoming and Montana I always carried with me. I stared at it, especially the blank spaces — the grizzly country — traveling in my mind over the ridges and peaks into hidden basins and high cirques.

“I came home from the war in 1968 with, though I didn’t know it at the time, a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t officially recognize and name PTSD until 1980. My own impairment was later diagnosed by the DVA as “total and permanent,” rated at 100%. The applicable phrase, I read later, was “walking wounded.”

“I bought a jeep and retreated to Wyoming and Montana to seek refuge in those landscapes I had dreamed about in Vietnam while poring over my tattered map.

“There I found grizzly bears.

“What was invaluable for me was the way the bears dominated the psychic landscape. I experienced the exhilaration that comes of traveling through country occupied by something more powerful than you are.

“The grizzly instilled enforced humility. The grizzly radiates potency. He carries the physical strength and thorniness of disposition that allows him to attack or kill most any time he cares. But, almost always, he chooses not to.

“That is power beyond a bully’s swaggering. It is the kind of restraint that commands awe — a muscular act of grace.

“In my experience, the emotional posture of humility leads to a lot of healing. After the Vietnam War, those grizzlies saved my life.

“At that time, most of the extant footage of grizzlies consisted of bears at dumps or along roads and salmon streams in Alaska. No one had much film of grizzlies in the wild. I wanted to see how grizzlies would behave apart from man and his tools.

“Since I believed they had saved my life, it was payback time — I owed the bears.

“Over the ensuing years, I have continued a deep involvement with grizzlies and grizzly conservation. That includes helping others to learn about grizzly bears and the lessons to be drawn from travel in grizzly country.

“I intend to keep leading veterans groups, and others, into grizzly country as long as I can.

“It is a timeless healing and teaching experience.”

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s illegal decision to prematurely strip protections from the grizzlies, defying the best available science and sidestepping important legal safeguards, enables the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to move ahead with plans for trophy hunting of grizzlies.

“We will do everything we can to use the power of the law to make sure that this illegal delisting decision does not result in dead grizzlies this fall due to Wyoming’s planned hunt,” said Tim Preso, Earthjustice’s lead attorney on the lawsuit challenging the agency’s illegal decision.

“With grizzly deaths spiking and the population in apparent decline, the Yellowstone population needs continued protection, not a new threat of state-sponsored trophy hunting.”

About The Legal Case. Alongside our allies and on behalf of our clients, Earthjustice attorneys have worked for decades to safeguard Yellowstone’s grizzlies from habitat destruction, excessive killing and other threats. Learn more.

Doug Peacock is a writer, naturalist, and filmmaker. He lives in Emigrant Gulch, Mont., and is the author of Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness.