Doug's Blog

Rants from a renegade naturalist
Doug Peacock has not set their biography yet

Don't Delist the Yellowstone Griz (nor believe everything you read)

grizzlies 750

Two contrasting news stories about bears in the West were published on April 2, 2017. The first is a credible six-year scientific study of black bears by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The second is a report from the Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in Jackson, Wyoming, featuring the head scientist spouting familiar political bullshit about too many grizzlies ever expanding their Yellowstone range.


The Colorado study documents rising temperatures, fewer days spent in the den, increased human conflicts, and dramatically decreasing female black bear populations in southwestern Colorado. Rising conflicts with bears eating human garbage does not mean the bear population is rising. Garbage, they conclude, is not addicting; bears go back to natural food when it is available. The key to bear populations is the carrying capacity: how much food is there, which is directly related to soil moisture and plant production that is, in turn, directly related to climate change and (by correlation) to drought and rising temperatures in the American West.


On the other hand, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in Yellowstone doesn’t believe climate change matters, writing in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we (The Fish and Wildlife Service) conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to (the Yellowstone grizzly bear population) now, not are they anticipated to in the future.” Frank van Manen, head scientist of Study Team, says the grizzlies are expanding their range by 11 percent every couple years. Why? He says it’s because there are too many bears: “We are packing more sardines in the sardine can.” Van Manen thinks they are overflowing from the can into new territory where conflicts with livestock abound, and that today we are seeing the largest Yellowstone grizzly bear population size since listed as a threatened species in 1975.


This is bullshit. Climate change has already decimated key Yellowstone grizzly foods, especially whitebark pine nuts (which is now functionally extinct as a food source for bears), and has lowered the carrying capacity of the habitat through drought and rising temperatures (for a scientific discussion, click on the Grizzly-Sardine-Can link below).


Bears are ranging out of the Yellowstone core area, but it’s because there’s not enough food there. Hence, the density of grizzlies has decreased. The population of Yellowstone bears has not increased for 15 years and has probably declined since 2007—coincidentally the date of the tipping point for methane release in the Arctic, the commencement of abrupt climate change, and the sudden death of whitebark pine trees in Yellowstone. Is there any chance these events could be related? You bet your ass.


Continue reading
2137 Hits

Open Letter to President Obama

June 3, 2016


The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500


Dear President Obama:

We are writing to thank you for your leadership on climate change and to ask for your help: Yellowstone grizzly bears are in grave danger.

Your administration has regrettably taken steps to strip the bear’s federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening up a grizzly bear trophy hunt on the edges of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone’s bears are a remnant and isolated population. They must be allowed to wander safely outside of Yellowstone National Park.

Americans would never accept hunting of America’s bald eagle; hunting Yellowstone grizzly bears is equally unacceptable.

To make matters worse, America’s great bears face the same looming threats as many species across the country due to climate change. In the last decade, climate change has decimated the Yellowstone grizzly’s most important food, the white bark pine nut.

Unfortunately, the March 3, 2016, delisting announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came paired with an astonishing declaration in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone grizzly bear population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the future.”

This statement is even more disturbing in light of your administration’s commitment to addressing climate change, because climate change predictions are dire for all our planet’s species. How can it be that the military considers climate change in all its decisions, while the agency responsible for our wildlife, the FWS, does not?

The same argument – the denial of climate change – was used by the FWS in 2014 to deny listing the wolverine in the lower 48 states. On April 4, 2016, that decision was reversed in federal court, and declared “arbitrary and capricious.” The FWS was ordered to reconsider its reasoning about climate change. It’s now time for this federal agency to play catch up and use “the best available science” to keep grizzly bears on the ESA list.

A critical question: Who benefits from delisting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears? The only certain outcome of delisting bears will be trophy hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

We ask you to instruct our federal wildlife managers to withdraw the March 3 rule and order the FWS to take another look at how climate change impacts grizzly bears. Any decision about the bear’s future should be put on hold until independent scientific review can explore potential impacts to bears from climate change. We strongly suspect that America’s great bears face a dire future, even with the continued protection of the Endangered Species Act.


Respectfully yours,


Doug Peacock

Disabled veteran, Author, Guggenheim Fellow


Concerned scientists:

Professor Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology

George B. Schaller, Panthera Corporation and Wildlife Conservation Society

Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace

Michael Soule, Professor Emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz


Friends of the Yellowstone ecosystem:

Jeff Bridges, Academy Award-winning actor

Douglas Brinkley, Author and professor of history

Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, Inc.

Michael Finley, Former superintendent Yellowstone National Park

Harrison Ford, Award-winning actor

Carl Hiaasen, Journalist, author

Michael Keaton, Award-winning actor

Tom McGuane, American Academy of Arts & Letters

N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winner

Terry Tempest Williams, Author and Guggenheim Fellow

Ted Turner, Philanthropist and conservationist


Download the Letter (PDF)


Continue reading
5085 Hits

Help Save Yellowstone's Bears

Dear friends-


As you probably know, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to strip Yellowstone’s grizzly bears of protection under the Endangered Species Act, and open the population up to hunting. The FWS states, astonishingly, that climate change does not constitute a threat now, or in the future, to grizzly bears.


I would greatly appreciate it if you would join me in sending comments to FWS opposing this delisting. Comments are most valuable when they raise questions about the substance of the agency’s proposal. It is not enough to simply state, “I oppose delisting the Yellowstone grizzlies.”


You might consider commenting about the effects of climate change on grizzly food sources, or on the foolhardiness of hunting the second-slowest reproducing land mammal in North America, or the uncertainty inherent in the vague triggers the agency has proposed to protect the bear in case of excessive mortality.


If you’d like to get some ideas, you can read my article on delisting that was published last month the Daily Beast: Grizzlies in the Crosshairs.


The agency is taking public comments on this proposal through Tuesday, May 10. Comments are being accepted electronically, Click Here


Comments are also being accepted via mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2016–0042, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.


Thank you for your help.


For the wild,

Doug Peacock

Continue reading
1793 Hits

Saying goodbye to my friend Jim

A eulogy to Jim Harrison on the Daily Beast.

A month ago, I drove a half-cooked leg of lamb around the foot of the Santa Rita Mountains to Jim Harrison’s place on Sonoita Creek in southeastern Arizona. The lamb was half-cooked because I’d planned to finish it off in Jim’s oven while our dogs played. Jim lived on one of southern Arizona’s last permanent streams, a ribbon of rich habitat known for its giant cottonwoods, native fishes, and vast array of birds and butterflies. It’s a place buzzing with life. We drank wine out back while the dogs splashed in the creek, backlit in the winter sunlight. I hold on to that image now: Jim, America’s greatest living writer, died there last Saturday afternoon... Read more.

Continue reading
2171 Hits

Death in Yellowstone: Living with animals who sometimes kill and eat us.

Death in Yellowstone: Living with animals who sometimes kill and eat us.

Federal officials defied their own rules in killing the mother bear behind this month’s Yellowstone tragedy. The lives of the endangered species are about to get even cheaper.


Continue reading
3950 Hits

Yellowstone grizzly bear involved in hiker's death


We need to honor this hiker and let the mother bear roam wild. The reason: Mother grizzlies never intentionally kill humans; they don't care about us, only the safety of their cubs. The hiker surprised the sow grizzly. We will never know exactly how but likely she was on a day bed and he got too close. The hiker had wounds on his arms, indicating he probably fought back, an understandable but bad reaction to a mother bear to whom resistance means her cubs are still in danger. We don't know why she made contact; close proximity possibly made worse by running. Running or trying to climb a tree after a mother grizzly with cubs is the worst choice, followed by fighting back. Apparently, the hiker's body was cached and fed upon. This most disturbing of consequences needs to seen in context of the natural world of the bear. Anything dead out there is Yellowstone this time of year is seen as a most valuable food source during the lean times of summer. Witness past bison carcasses in Hayden Valley where humans got too close, then in turn were eaten too. Once dead, a human is like any other animal. If several grizzlies are around, the most dominant animal, often a big male, will appropriate the carcass. So if a mother bear killed a human in perceived defense of her cubs, that doesn't mean she cached or fed on the body. The salient point here: This mother bear is no more likely to repeat this most natural of aggressions--kill, or consume a human--than any other mother grizzly bear in the world. The feds are more nervous about litigation and bad press than public safety. The only way to totally protect the public from wild bears and insure safety for park visitors is to kill off all the grizzlies. the federal agencies don't want that any more than we do. Help them clarify their thinking. This was a defensive natural act for a wild grizzly. It will probably never happen again to this mother bear, though of course it might--and that is the great value of wilderness and their risky animals. The hiker was experienced, knew the area well and loved to take this hike. His now missing opinion is what would have mattered to me: What would he have wanted for the fate of this bear?

Doug Peacock, 8-8-2016, Northern Yellowstone

Continue reading
4260 Hits

The real Grizzly Man

Recent piece by David Gessner.

Continue reading
1320 Hits

Interview with the Wildernist

Just skip the "how I met the griz" stuff.

Interview with Doug Peacock - The Wildernist

Continue reading
1232 Hits

Scott Carrier talks to Doug on Home of the Brave

A broad-ranging discussion about extinctions, then and now:

Home of the Brave

Continue reading
1503 Hits

Northern Tribes Support Yellowstone's Grizzlies

Take a look at this short video clip and decide for yourself: A newspaper oped writer told me that this bureaucratic action in Cody, Wyoming was proper protocol for a (WY and the Interagency Grizzly Committee) government-run meeting; I finally watched it myself and thought of the end of Easy Rider.

The Tribal Coalition (now up to 35 separate tribes) is vehemently opposed to the government's proposal to Delist the Yellowstone Grizzly (meaning to strip the bear of federal protections under the Endangered Species Act).

Disrespect or otherwise, the battle is heating up and the tribes will be heard; they are calling for the removal of Chris Servheen, the committee's boss. The words of tribal elders about the bears are eloquent and often ground-shaking. Check them out.


The extreme DISRESPECT shown to the Northern Cheyenne Nation by Wyoming State public officials,...
Continue reading
1556 Hits

Yellowstone Wilderness Under Siege

The only reason you can still find wild country in Yellowstone National Park is because people don't go there. Whether it's benign neglect, remoteness or that the park service simply forgot to build a trail into these pockets, it all adds up to tiny, precious and vulnerable wilderness.

The biggest threats today are the Loomis/Bishop Paddling Bill (see Todd Wilkinson link below) and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team who have announced plans to intensify grizzly trapping, snaring and tranquilizing in the most "remote" parts of the Yellowstone ecosystem. This unimaginative practice constitutes unnecessary, highly invasive and unproductive science that has already resulted in many dead bears and at least one killed human. It's simplistic and yeilds no significant data, yet high-tech in that helicopters are used in these most "remote' areas of Yellowstone. When you see a flock of choppers like dragonflies hovering around some distant peak in Yellowstone, you know it's a grizzly trapping operation. And why? The Interagency Team has already unanimously voted to remove federal protections from Yellowstone's grizzlies (Delisting) and all this useless harassment of bears is only aimed at the hope the team's findings will support removing these bears from protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Please bug your favorite official/politician to stop this waste of resources and serious threat to both grizzly bears and the wild habitats they need for survival.

Doug Peacock, Ajo, AZ

See Todd Wilkinson, Paddlers should avoid misusing hero's words (Jackson Hole News)

Continue reading
2647 Hits


Through the fog of righteousness these distant images in the ditches or in the trees keep tapping me on the shoulder. War produces a few heroes but the victims, on all sides, are countless. I revisit my own war, try to write about it and fight the nearly irresistable urge to edit. I just returned from a visit to DC, to see, for the first time, the Vietnam Memorial War Wall with a close Vietnam veteran friend who keeps me honest.


Yesterday, Seymour Hersh posted his recent visited My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam. I was nearby, very close, on March 16, 1968;…/my_lai_revisited_47_years_lat…

Directly Related: also see my favorite journalist Carl Hiaasen on Lynching:…/carl-hiaa…/article10771169.html


Photo: Doug Peacock at My Lai, Veteran's Day 2011

Continue reading
1550 Hits

American Sniper

"A Sniper's Tale," fragment from GRIZZLY YEARS: In Search of the American Wilderness, pages 84-85:


"I remembered Tet and the last time I went to Ba An. I waited on the hill above his house for the Vietcong who I had been told cut off the head of my Montagnard friend, Dinh Rua. Bato District was that kind of small war back then, so I knew. At 1715 a VC in black pj's carrying a Swedish K left the house. I hosed down, firing on semiautomatic over seven hundred meters, arching the M16 tracer rounds down from a hill, shooting off half a magazine before he disappeared.

This was early 1968, the time of the Tet Offensive, a time of random murders and blind vengeance, and I wanted to find a scapegoat sufficiently monstrous to explain the necessity of all the corpses.

The next day some villagers from Bato saw the body; I had drilled him dead-center. Later I learned the details and found I had killed the wrong man. What the hell, I told myself, he was a Vietcong and carrying a rifle; so what if he wasn't the assassin?

But something happened to me after that. It was the beginning of my end over there and I came apart rapidly. The rationalization returned to horrify me. I quit killing strangers forever. It never had been my war anyway."

Continue reading
1637 Hits

Edward Abbey speaks of our present crisis and future hope

Ed Abbey, in a 1984 letter, wrote: I am a pessimist in the short run, by which I mean the next fifty or maybe a hundred years. In that brief interval it seems quite probable that too many of us humans, crawling over one another for living space and sustenance, will make the earth an extremely unpleasant planet on which to live. And this quite aside from the possibility of a nuclear war. In the long run, I am an optimist. Within a century, I believe and hope, there will be a drastic reduction in the human population (as has happened before), and that will make possible a free and open society for our surviving descendants, a return to a more intimate and tolerant relationship to the natural world, and an advance (not a repetition) toward a truly humane, liberal and civilized form of human society, politically and economically decentralized but unified, perhaps on a planetary scale, by slow and easy-going travel, unrestricted wandering for all and face-to-face (not electronic) communication between the more adventurous elements of human tribes, clans, races. Instant communication is not communication at all but merely a frantic, trivial, nerve-wracking bombardment of clich鳬 threats, fads, fashions, gibberish and advertising.

Continue reading
1379 Hits

A Death Sentence for Wolverines in the Northern Rockies


A witless remark by regional director Noreen Walsh of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service may have sealed the doom of our wolverine population south of Canada. The specious crack, buried in an obfuscated and recently leaked memo by the Rocky Mountain Region director of the FWS, denies climate change models and claims that global warming predictions of reduced snowfall are merely “speculative.” This bureaucratic ignorance overrules prior recommendations of government researchers to list wolverines south of the border as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. These scientists, the 17-page letter says, have been ordered to reverse their own conclusions. A final announcement is due from agency Director Dan Ashe on August 4, 2014.

This careless political statement also reveals the heart of the flawed relationship between American environmentalists and the Obama administration: the urban-based Obama White House remains unresponsive when it comes to the rights and welfare of iconic animals like grizzly bears, bison, wolves or wolverines and, secondly, the Federal Wildlife Service remains in large part a bureaucracy left over from the Bush administration, which twice denied protection for the wolverine and has failed to confront the considerable and urgent threats presented by global warming.

This simple inaccuracy by a single high level Obama bureaucrat could put wolverines in the Northern Rockies on a cattle train to extinction.

What are the facts about wolverine critical habitat and survival?  Snowfall is indeed the key to wolverine survival.

The most credible scientific data on wolverine behavior documents an absolute habitat dependence on “persistent spring snow habitat.” A study of 562 wolverine denning sites demonstrated that wolverines denned in areas of spring snow 100 percent of the time. Persistent spring snow habitat has been defined as the snow that lingers from April 24 to May 15, a period that encompasses the end of the wolverine’s denning period. This data comes from satellite images and telemetry sites. During summers, 95 percent of telemetry locations of wolverines during summertime were in areas of persistent snow and 86 percent of winter locations also fell in these habitats. This study (Copeland, 2010) records satellite photographs from 2000 to 2006. The proxy of persistent spring snow for critical wolverine habitat is as close to a perfect wildlife management indicator that we have for any large mammal in the Continental United States. Snow is what wolverines need to survive.

Climate warming can be charted as a long term rising trend with variation. The winter temperatures where wolverines live here in Montana have been on the rise since 2002. But there are bumps in the straight-line graph. For example, in October 2009, a cold snap caused a temporary hiatus in the mountain pine beetle epidemic in whitebark pine forests; that lethal outbreak resumed in spring of 2013. During the winter of 2013-2014, snowfall was heavier than average. This anomaly may be what spurred Regional Director Wash to consider global warming, and resultant decreased snowfall, “speculative.”

Here’s the nub: Does anyone think global warming is waning or going away in the near or distant future? The polar caps are melting at a frightening rate. The U S Navy predicts summer Arctic sea ice will be gone by 2016. Up in the Yukon, along the Beaufort Sea, he permafrost is breaking up along coasts and riverbanks; that crumbling, eroding permafrost is belching huge gasps of methane. In the Amazon, warming of 2 degrees C, which we are rapidly approaching, would cause a 20-40% collapse of the rainforest, irreversible damage, which would significantly amplify worldwide warming.

The highest density of wolverines left south of Canada is in Glacier National Park.  The well-studied glaciers, for which the park was named, occur when more snow dumps on the mountains in winter than melts during summer—accumulation exceeds ablation. Today, the opposite is happening; researchers now predict the park’s glaciers will disappear by 2020. This is not “speculative” science. The glaciers are melting because snowfall is decreasing and temperatures are rising--bad news for wolverines.

On July 2, 2014, the National Park Service released a comprehensive climate warming report in the journal PloS ONE. Global warming is happening in 235 of the 289 parks they studies. In northeastern Yellowstone, snowpack has declined 22% since 1975. Apparently, Regional Director Wash has not read that study either.

The wolverine is indeed the Northern Rockies polar bear.  As the polar bear drifts towards extinction because of melting polar ice, so will wolverine populations disappear as warming weather shrinks our Rocky Mountain snowpack. The wolverine’s only chance is total protection under our Endangered Species Act. And that’s merely a chance: None of us on this mysterious blue planet will escape the affliction we call global warming.

Please tell the USFWS to reverse this deadly decision:

Director, Dan Ashe: Telephone 202-208-4717, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Address: U.5. Fish & Wildlife Service, 1849 C. Street, NW, ROOM 3331 Washington, DC 20240

Read the USFWS wolverine memo.

Continue reading
2370 Hits

Sooner than Later

Today's NY Times article has a deep flaw.

Substitute "end of the decade" for "end of the century" and you'll see where I'm going.

Scientists are constantly playing catch-up when it comes to underestimating the magnitude, rapidity and consequences of global warming. Mainstream news equates caution with responsible reporting and the collective results are a watered-down sense of urgency about climate change.

Thus, the otherwise fine NYT's piece says we might see the temperature heat up 10 degrees F and the seas rise 1-4 feet "by the end of the century." I deeply doubt this, though I wish it were true.

The US Navy thinks the Arctic summer sea ice will be gone by 2016. Today, the Arctic permafrost is rapidly thawing, belching out methane at a frightening rate; you can see huge chunks of permafrost caving off the Yukon coast of the Beaufort Sea and falling off river banks. The released methane could cause 10 degrees of global warming in a decade, a tipping point since it would contribute to Amazonian rainforest collapse. The loss of the ice caps is a reality that is coming soon, as inevitable as the polar bears now grazing inland into the 6th Great Extinction.

Sea level-rise by glacial melting is not necessarily an inch-by-inch affair; the Ross Ice Sheet of Antarctica could fall off into the ocean tomorrow; it has before. That would cause 15 feet of rising ocean within a week, worldwide. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, equally unstable, would add another 17-20 feet of flooding, demolishing coastal populations and dealing disaster to the low-lying Third World. Greenland and eastern Antarctica are also losing more ice than anyone expected. The odds of one or more of these melting events adding 12-20 feet to the ocean level in a decade? My guess is about 50-50.

The Times also notes that food production worldwide will be "hard hit in coming decades." Drought and global warming are already baking agriculture out of Africa, moving fast into southern Asia, capable of creating deserts the size of continents. This, along with ocean rise, could happen in a decade, displacing a billion starving strangers, sending them north into the troubled Gulags of industrial farming in Siberia.

I guess "strangers" is the key word; Global warming is yet something we imagine happening incrementally to remote strangers, way down the line, maybe at the end of the century.

Global warming is gnawing us on the ass right now. By the end of the decade, it'll take out a real chunk.

Continue reading
1845 Hits

Westerners Fear Public Land Grab by County Commissioner

b2ap3_thumbnail_cranes-158-800-600-80.jpgIn the wake of last month’s armed confrontation in Nevada, where rightwing militia threatened to shoot down federal BLM agents with automatic weapons, another anti-federal government showdown is coming to a head in Utah. Over in Nevada, the issue was defending deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy’s illegal cattle grazing; now, in Utah, a county commissioner want to build an illegal road down a protected federal canyon. The larger issue is who, if anyone, owns the land.

Edward Abbey first introduced me to the canyons and mesas of Southeastern Utah 40 years ago. Soon thereafter, Recapture Canyon became my favorite place to visit the beauty of this country and pay my respects to the ancients who lived in this homeland thousands of years before European settlement. About 25 years ago, I started taking my small children down here, to a place the kids called “the lost city,” because there was a 1,000-year old Anasazi pueblo without significant signs of looting or pot hunting. I have taken many children there since, along with family and the people I love most in the world. Recapture Canyon is that special—I’ve taken probably 40 trips there, sometimes with an overnight camp. On each of these privileged descents into Recapture, we walked and climbed down. We never used a vehicle or ATV.

This magic land so loved by children is only a handful of miles southeast of Blanding, Utah, in San Juan County. This is exactly where a San Juan County commissioner plans on leading an illegal ATV “protest” ride down and through Recapture Canyon on May 8, 2014. The road they propose (we’ve witnessed illegal ATV use of the canyon throughout the past decade) would be 14.3 miles long and accessed from four trailheads.

One immediate consequence of the illegal ATV event is the cancellation of a well-planned trip for veterans co-sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Sierra Club. I was to be a partner in this invaluable veterans’ program and had intended to address the vets at Sand Island, 20 miles south of Blanding, on the day following the ATV trip. Many of the veterans are, like myself, disabled from combat, with service-related trauma both physical and psychic. Native American medicine men were to prepare sweat lodges, along with traditional healing ceremonies. Navaho war veterans, whose ancestors were forced off these lands and fought in great numbers in our country’s foreign battles, had planned to assist the veterans healing program. I was especially enthusiastic to participate in the vets program because of the Navajo and the quality of the leadership of both BLM and Sierra Club outreach personnel. One of them wrote this on April 24th:

“Due to the potential risk of an illegal ATV ride on BLM lands conflicting with our Cedar Mesa trek, we are postponing the event until October of this year. While the spiritual side of the event could be effected by the ATV ride, there is also the potential safety risk to BLM staff and trip participants due to the recent hostile atmosphere in the West surrounding these events.”

This great healing event for veterans has been pushed aside by a few ATV advocates insistent on illegally riding their silly toys.  What a missed opportunity.

As for San Juan County’s claims over the land: They have no special rights. Public, BLM lands belong to you and your children, to fishermen in Florida or anyone in New York or San Francisco as much as they do residents of Blanding. We white settlers in the West often conveniently forget that we were not the first to own the land; we merely got it from others who stole it from people who never claimed to own it in the beginning.

There is another way of seeing the vast public lands of southern Utah and Cedar Mesa: that maybe they belong to no one, or to themselves, or the Ancients whose spirits so dominate this holy landscape. We don’t need to see the public lands as a giant free super-market, a cheap place to graze our cows, extract minerals, drill for oil, grow a tourist economy or commercially guide trips.

An archaeologist from Bluff, Utah, once told me Recapture Canyon was unique in Anasazi archeology, that the canyon had its own Pueblo culture. He showed me remnants of a thousand-year-old holy road for foot travel in the tradition of Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. Recapture is home to the northernmost Utah’s Great Kiva. We might ask the Native American neighbors who live along Recapture Canyon—the White Mesa Ute on the adjacent west rim and Utah Navajo to the southeast—what they would advise and recommend.

And, yes, the BLM does need help: They need more law enforcement resources to protect our public lands from violations of laws already in the books, like Antiquity laws protecting Native American archaeological sites. And the laws closing those few wild areas to motor vehicle or ATV use: Most public lands are far too open to vehicular use. We have only several, mostly small areas where we have to walk the old fashioned way. Let’s keep Recapture Canyon one of them. After all, it’s not that hard to go down there on your own two feet; my pre-school children did it a bunch of times.

Doug Peacock
Emigrant, Montana

Continue reading
4811 Hits

THE ORIGINS OF NATIVE AMERICANS: How archeologists managed to screw up a perfectly good answer to an ancient puzzle

Anzick LanceolateWe finally have a definitive answer to the timeless mystery of where the First Americans came from: They walked across the Bering Straits from Asia (and not from southwest Europe paddling kayaks across the frigid Atlantic sea, as some have claimed).

The first people to successfully colonize North America are called “Clovis,” and they made their appearance in the lower United States just prior to 13,000 years ago. The only known Clovis burial is in Montana, about forty miles north of my house on the Yellowstone River (also known as the Anzick site). Here prehistoric people buried a one and a half year old boy with about 115 stone and bone funeral offerings, all covered with sacred red ocher. The burial objects, discovered by construction workers in 1968, constitute the largest and most spectacular assemblage of Clovis artifacts ever found.

A recent analysis of the child’s DNA (Nature 2-13-2014) reveals a genome sequence showing the Montana Clovis people are direct ancestors to some 80 percent of all Native North and South Americans living today. The child’s ancestors came over in a single migration from Northeastern Asia. This data is a very big deal.

Archeologists call this report “the final shovelful of dirt” on the European hypothesis. And, yes, previous to the release of this information, a popular alternative theory argued that the sophisticated Clovis stone-flaking technology came from Southwestern Europe, from Solutrean people living in Spain and France who paddled across the ocean 18,000 years ago. That meant the Clovis child should be of European ancestry. The iconic Clovis projectile point, many of which have been found imbedded in the bones of huge animals who became extinct around 12,900 years ago, appeared suddenly and is a large, extremely well-crafted weapon. A troubling insinuation of the “Solutrean” theory is that Native Americans weren’t somehow able to invent the distinctive Clovis point on their own.

One might think that the Out-of-Europe hypothesis was, at its worst, a harmless crackpot theory--that this very terrestrial-adapted culture of the Iberian Peninsula, with no evidence of maritime technology, overcame a frigid Atlantic ocean during a time span of 5,000 years by iceberg-hopping in skin boats in order to deliver the distinctive Clovis weapon system to the Southeastern United States. But this scholarly squabble quickly grew ugly with the discovery of Kennewick Man in 1996.

Civility evaporated during the nasty eight-year legal squabble over Kennewick Man (a 9,000-year-old skeleton found in the Columbia River), and we were reminded that archaeology lingers yet as a barely disguised insult to many Native Americans. The central issue of Kennewick Man was his ancestry: Was he of European origin?

Some anthropologists thought he looked like a Caucasian actor from Star Trek. The legal maneuvering and sequestering behind the discovery of Kennewick Man was a media-fest fed by the loony assertions of white supremacists that the Aryan race discovered America. The result was increasing polarization between the white, male litigants who wanted to run tests on the bones and the local Umatilla people who wanted him reburied.

In 1999, two archeologists, Mark Papworth and Larry Lahren, and myself asked the Anzick family for permission to revisit the burial site; we would interview the surviving discoverers who found the burial back in 1968 and re-excavate the backfill of previous archeologist’s digs in order to establish the original stratigraphy of the short cliff-face, into which the burial bundle had been stuffed. I was writing an article for Outside Magazine, whose expense money helped finance the excavation. The article advocated reburying the child and, in this, it failed. Inadvertently, the press coverage advertised the burial items for wealthy artifact collectors and as a gold mine for academically connected archeologists.

The Iberian versus Siberian debate followed the archeological gold trail from Kennewick back to Montana. Solutrean advocates said the Anzick child’s bones were buried completely apart from the 115 artifacts and at a different time. Furthermore, the Clovis-Out-of-Europe school argued, even if they were interred at the same time, the boy’s DNA would indicate a European origin.

Well, the February article in Nature proves definitively that the Clovis child’s ancestry is Asian, not European. It’s solid science. The Solutrean fans are out of luck. This should be the biggest American archeological news in decades. That is, if archeology could let it stand without spinning the hard facts to fit an ambitious pre-conceived political agenda.

The Washington Times once called North American archaeology “one of the nastier academic communities on the planet” and in that tradition these obvious conclusions surrounding the Montana burial now sag with the baggage of dogma. There is an additional theory of the origins of Clovis, which not coincidentally is the brainchild of the article’s senior author Michael Waters who initiated the DNA study of the Anzick burial. That theory, call it “Texas First,” argues that pre-Clovis folk lived on Buttermilk Creek in central in Texas starting at 15,000 years ago, a period which “provides ample time for people to settle into the environments of North America, colonize South America … develop the Clovis tool kit and create a base population through which Clovis technology could spread.” The credibility of the site is controversial: No radiocarbon dates are provided and, of the claimed 15,528 artifacts, less than one-half of a single percent (56) of the “artifacts” appear to be tools, and they don’t look much like Clovis. In fact, to a layperson like myself, this tool complex looks like what you’d get if you threw chunks of chert on the driveway and drove your pickup truck over them for two years. Nonetheless, the popular press received Water’s unfiltered claims with a unanimous embrace.

The Texas First agenda plays a major role in the interpretation of the Anzick child burial. Waters’ theory depends on when the boy was buried; here, a bit of technical detail is necessary. For Clovis technology to originate in Texas and spread upriver to the boonies of Montana would take a long time, hundreds of years, and the iconic Clovis projectile point would arrive at the very end of the Clovis culture, which bloomed explosively and only lasted from about 13,100 to 12,800 years ago. The Waters team has chosen 12,600 years ago, from a wide range of available carbon-14 dates on the Anzick skeleton that stretches from 12,680 (in 1983) to 13,550 (in 1997). The same investigator and co-author analyzed both samples and now rejects the older date. There are other radiocarbon dates on the child’s bones. But why pick one carbon-14 date on the child’s bones over another? Or why does a single investigator get to choose which of several carbon-14 dates is best? This might be the time for archeologists to cut each other some slack when it comes to shaving radiocarbon dates into 100-year slices. For example, the 900-year discrepancy might be due to human contamination: Starting in 1968, every scientist who visited the Anzick site ran off with samples of the child’s skeleton and his bones were handled by dozens of curious bystanders. Could modern human DNA contamination affect the resultant radiocarbon date? Now, I know next to squat about the complexities of accelerator mass spectrometry or XAD-collagen analysis. But others do and we have a problem here. You can’t radiocarbon date stone tools but you can bone. Among the artifacts are elk antler “foreshafts” that were presumably used to bind the Clovis projectile points to a detachable rod. In 2006, independent archeologists dated two Anzick elk antler foreshafts; the results were uncannily identical and convincing—both dated 13,040 years old. Most all investigators accept these radiocarbon dates on the elk antlers as rock solid.

So, 400 years, that’s the problem. Either the child was buried at the same time the elk antler tools were made or 400 years later. The most obvious choice is that the Clovis boy was buried at the time the foreshaft tools were made and the radiocarbon dates on child’s bones are so far inaccurate. But that wasn’t good enough for the DNA team who felt obliged to spin the results. Michael Waters explains, without serious evidence, that elk was “a rare animal in the plains at that time.” The difference in age between the skeleton and the 400 year-old heirloom antler tools, he explains, suggest the elk antler tools were "very special ritual objects passed down for generations."

The fact is that elk run in herds; they’re either grazing in your valley or not, but they are never rare, just absent. When elk are present, they drop their antlers in late winter. You can find hundreds of pounds of elk antlers in a few hours walking the spring hills in nearby Yellowstone Park. That date of 13,040 years ago also marks the first known appearance of elk in the lower-48. Humans in central Alaska hunted elk around 13,300 years ago. Elk only arrived in North America from Siberia at the very end of the last Ice Age, after the onset of global warming 14,700 years ago, and had to wait in Alaska for the Ice Free Corridor (IFC) to melt open in order to get down to Montana. If you can find dropped antlers and make an elk ivory foreshaft in a few hours, why haul this hefty stuff around for 400 years, a time span most archaeologists believe exceeds the entire life of the Clovis culture?

The reason is that lugging these tools--made from common, abundant and heavy raw material--around for 400 years fits the Texas First agenda. If the origins of Clovis technology lie in Texas or other southern states, it would imply two pre-conditions: First, that it took these southern pre-Clovis people about 400 years to make the trip north, up from Buttermilk Creek to remote Montana and, secondly, according to the Texas hypothesis Clovis would have arrived at the Anzick Site from the south, and not from Alaska, trekking southward down the IFC.

By not accepting at face value the solution to the mystery Clovis origins, the First American DNA team open a very wide door into which the “Solutrean” hypothesis advocates will certainly stick their European-theory feet. Why didn’t the Anzick genetic team simply say the burial is Clovis and the child is of Asian ancestry? But that wasn’t the case. They had to infect the perfectly adequate data with the totally improbable idea of a 400 year-old heirloom elk antler tool.

The lead advocates for the Solutrean hypothesis wrote in 2012 (Across Atlantic Ice): “It may be that they (the child’s bones) were not associated with the Clovis Cache but were incidentally buried nearby and the red ochre staining the toddler’s bones is purely coincidental.” That far-fetched claim means that even if the child’s DNA is Asian, that doesn’t matter because he is not associated with the artifacts and therefore not Clovis, whose ancestors must be European. This whacko assertion has yet to be seriously refuted by establishment archaeologists.

Those advocating the Solutrean theory can now claim that the 12,600 year old date on the child’s bones is far too young to be Clovis, a culture that major archaeologists believe marched into the sunset along with the extinction of the American megafauna (mammoths, sabertooths, etc.) at the time of the Younger Dryas cooling event at about 12,800 years ago.

On these muddied waters, another possibility for the origins of Clovis looms: The oldest theory of all, that Clovis progenitors came down the IFC from Alaska, ran into mammoth and invented a projectile point big enough to kill elephants. The first evidence of elk south of the ice sheets at the Clovis burial site in Montana is a good example of Late Pleistocene migrations. The habitat requirements of elk and their speed of migration are probably the same today as at the end of the Pleistocene. That would have meant a fully re-vegetated (that is, lush with elk food) ice-free corridor. Any elk habitat expert, modern hunters as well as biologists, might take a stab at the time required for elk to make that journey. I would guess—Yukon to Anzick--perhaps at least a couple-hundred years.

The elk antler foreshafts provide evidence for the use of the ice-free corridor and when that route was available for human passage. If modern elk first came down the corridor at least 13,300 years ago, humans could have made the same trip earlier: People wouldn’t have required a completely recovered habitat in terms of flora and fauna. Humans, with their dogs for hauling sleds and as emergency food, packs full of pemmican and waterfowl hunting skills for the melt-water corridor lakes, could have used the same passage earlier than the elk and made it down to Montana in a few years instead of centuries.

That could push back the date for earliest possible human travel down the IFC back to around 13,500 years ago—contrary to both the Texas First and Solutrean theories. An interesting question is why did potential ancestral Clovis people, who inhabited the Yukon River drainage 13,300 years ago and hunted elk, wait until around 13,100 years ago to make the journey southward? Maybe they were afraid of something (like the gigantic Short-faced Bear in the south).

One thing is clear: DNA analysis of human bone is a destructive process and the Anzick child has contributed more than enough to Western science. It’s time we all cooperated to find him an earthly home. A repatriation ceremony would help bury the ignominious squabbles of the past. Natives from all over the New World could host a great celebration to honor their oldest ancestor.

Doug Peacock
Emigrant, Montana

© Copyright 2014. Reprints allowed with permission of Doug Peacock

For additional reading see:

The genome of a Late Pleistocene human from a Clovis burial site in western Montana” Nature 506, 225-229 (13 February 2014)

Peacock, Doug. In the Shadow of the Sabertooth: Global Warming, the Origins of the First Americans and the Terrible Beasts of the Pleistocene. Oakland; AK Press 2014

Continue reading
5869 Hits

Yellowstone Grizzlies and the loss of Whitebark Pine

Here's the beginning of the battle to remove Endangered Species' protection for Yellowstone grizzly bears by the federal goverment, headed by the USFWS team. We believe this USGS study of Yellowstone's grizzlies is a good example of terrible science and shoddy methology. Accordingly, we will fight to prevent "Delisting," in the courts if necessary. The Yellowstone grizzly will need all the help it can get with this fight for survival. 


Here's a recent post and link by Andrea peacock with a comment by Doug.

Andrea Peacock shared a link.
Great story by Natalie Storey:
Like ·  · 
  • Andrea Peacock Except, whitebark pine isn't recovering: it's "functionally extinct" in the GYE, according to biologist Jesse Logan. Infection rates are down because the trees are nearly all dead (and useless as a food source for griz).
  • Doug Peacock The Yellowstone NPS statement, "Some species that were under stress are showing signs of recovery, like the whitebark pine," is totally bogus. When 96% of whitebark pine trees are already dead, dying or infected, it doesn't matter how many cones the remaining 4% of trees produce. Seedling whitebark pines will never survive the 35 years of global warming and pine beetle infestation to grow to mature cone-producing trees. As grizzly food, it's gone.

Continue reading
1911 Hits

Montana's Kennewick Child

The battle lines are being drawn again by archaeologists and Native Americans over the re-interment of America’s oldest burial, a one and a half year-old boy who was laid to rest 13,000 years ago accompanied by the largest and most spectacular collection of Clovis burial artifacts ever discovered (also known as the Anzick Site). Tribal members in Montana and elsewhere want the child re-buried with reverence and ceremony while invested scientists want to keep on studying the human remains using DNA and Radiocarbon testing—techniques which destroy samples of what’s left of the child’s bones.

During the nasty legal squabble over Kennewick Man (a 9,000-year-old skeleton found in the Columbia River in 1996), we were reminded that archaeology lingers yet as a barely disguised insult to many Native Americans. The maneuvering and sequestering behind the discovery of Kennewick Man was a media circus fed by assertions of white supremacists that the Aryan race discovered America. Whatever the intent of the anthropologists, the result was increasing polarization between the scientists and the local Umatilla people.

The central issue of Kennewick Man was his ancestry: Was he of European origin? Some anthropologists thought he looked like a Caucasian actor from Star Trek. Why should Native Americans care about where he came from or from whom? To explain the Native American position, one California professor wrote this condescending note:

“…for the present system of incentives and rewards in which they operate depends on the constant assertion of Indian victimhood and white guilt. Such assertions would not be helped if it turned out the Indians weren’t the first Americans after all; that Europeans may have been here before them; or that Indians, like the Europeans who followed, may have come to America as colonizers to find a racially different aboriginal population, which they eventually replaced. For them it is better that as little as possible be known about Kennewick Man, or about any other ancient skeletal material for that matter.”

The Kennewick Man controversy, with white male scientists lined up on one side and Indians on the other, quickly grew ugly.

In Montana, however, the Clovis child’s ancestry is now clear: the boy’s people came from Siberia and his family is ancestral to 70 percent of all Native North and South Americans. He is America’s First Child. Clovis people no doubt came down from Alaska through the ice-free corridor between the two North American ice sheets and the origins of Clovis technology probable arise in Montana somewhere south of the Missouri River. All these claims can be verified by material found in the child’s burial.

A formal paper will soon be released in the scientific publication Nature. We know the genetic details from the recently released DNA results of the child’s skeletal remains. This is a very big archaeological deal, perhaps the biggest news so far in North American archaeology.

Thus the popular Solutrean theory, whereby Europeans from Spain and France paddled across the Atlantic Ocean to introduce Clovis technology to America, is dead. Clovis people were among the first wave of Americans who came over from Asia. The science so sacred to archaeologist has been completed; we have radiocarbon dates and DNA studies from the First Child’s skeletal remains and burial goods. It’s time for repatriation. Now, only the reburial of the bones remains.

Sadly, but predictably, the authors of this soon-to-be-published paper state are against reburial. Here is their statement as of November 1, 2013:

"The Anzick burial site was discovered on private land and the remains recovered have not been in control of a federally funded museum or federal agency, and thus the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) does not apply. Under Montana state law, unmarked human burials are not considered abandoned. Advice provided to the project by members of the Montana State Burial Board, however, confirmed that since no claimant has been made a request for the remains, the human remains from the Anzick burial site remain under the control of the landowners, the Anzick family."

In other words, the lead archaeologist considers the child’s skeletal remains the “private property” of the landowners, so he can go test the bones (DNA analysis is a particularly destructive process). The authors’ claims of informing Native American groups of their work are at least disingenuous.

An enrolled member of the Crow Tribe, an instructor at Montana State University in Bozeman, has recently presented the idea of reburial to Montana’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officers in Helena. Nothing was resolved as to how, when of even if the First Child would be repatriated.

I would point out that Montana’s Native Americans have no more claim to the Anzick child skeletal remains and grave offerings than do other tribes throughout North and South America, from New York to Baja, from the Alaskan Coast to Florida and all through South and Central America. The First Child’s people are Grandfather and Grandmother to all.

If you or your friends are Native Americans, the odds are that the Anzick child is your ancestor. Please call the Montana State Burial Preservation Board and ask to become a claimant to the child’s remains.

Montana State Burial Preservation Board phone: (406) 444-2460

For more about the history of the Anzick site, see In the Shadow of the Sabertooth: A Renegade Naturalist Considers Global Warming, the First Americans and the Terrible Beasts of the Pleistocene (AK Press, 2013).

Continue reading
5109 Hits
Go to top