Pick your favorite quote for daily meditation. On this topic, I had a lengthy conversation with Doug Peacock, who sits among the legendary living defenders of greater Yellowstone’s last wild places.

Once upon a time, Peacock served as a Green Beret medic in Vietnam. Left emotionally battered by the carnage, he searched for a way to heal the wounds and ultimately found a cure by immersing himself in the outback of America’s Western public lands.

These days there’s something sticking in Peacock’s craw. It’s the invoking of writer Edward Abbey’s name by packrafters “to justify their own self-serving attempt to get Yellowstone’s historic ban on paddling overturned.”

Peacock calls the tactic blasphemy. He says if Abbey were alive today he would be publicly decrying the packrafters for enlisting U.S. Reps. Cynthia Lummis and Rob Bishop, of Utah, “to carry forward a terrible bill on their behalf.”

Lummis and Bishop, as everyone knows, own two of the worst anti-environmental, anti-public lands voting records in Congress.

Peacock says it’s “reprehensible” that packrafters cite Abbey and other conservation heroes — including John Muir, David Brower and the Muries, of Moose — “to try to justify a me-first attitude that puts them squarely at odds with the one, true conservation position: holding the line in protecting Yellowstone from exploitation by yet another self-interest group.”

As Peacock points out, Lummis and Bishop support opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling, a place that Olaus, Adolph, Mardy and Louise Murie regarded as sacred ground, fighting their whole lives to protect.

Donald and Tom Murie, conservationist son and grandson of Olaus and Mardy, say the Murie elders would never negotiate with industry to open ANWR to drillers nor would they side with packrafters scheming with Lummis to barge their way into Yellowstone.

“It’s utter nonsense that this conflict is being portrayed by packrafters as a ‘young conservationists’ vs. ‘old conservationist’ issue,” Peacock says. “I know plenty of young recreation-minded conservationists who say what the packrafters are doing is wrong and selfish. To try and malign those of us who disagree with them as being ‘out of touch’ or ‘anti-recreation’ just shows how desperate they are.”

Of anyone on Earth, Peacock knows the heart and values of Edward Abbey. Not only was he a dear friend of Abbey’s and inspiration for one of Abbey’s famous fictional characters — George Washington Hayduke — but Peacock carried Abbey’s body out into the desert and buried him after he died 26 years ago in March 1989.

Last week Peacock took a stroll into the southern Arizona desert and visited the place where he put Abbey in the ground in an unmarked grave. If packrafters were sincere about being conservationists, he says, they “would come to their senses and salvage the credibility they are rapidly losing with the larger conservation community by asking Lummis to withdraw the bill.”

The Lummis bill sets a dangerous precedent for all public lands and leaves Yellowstone vulnerable to resembling the paddling nightmare that is Yosemite. For a sense of that, he says, click on this link: SeeYosemite.com/yosemite-water.html.

Peacock is adamant. “The packrafters picked this fight by behaving like right-wing Wise Users who are only in it for themselves,” he says, adding that “opening even one Yellowstone river is too much.”

Abbey, he says, saw Yellowstone as a sacred place.

“He believed there are some rare remaining spots on this planet that should not be exploited just to serve the interests of a few more thrill-seeking human egos,” he said. “You never negotiate surrender of a sacred place. If you are a recreationist who either can’t understand that or refuses to accept the power of self-restraint and leaving some places alone, then you have no business preaching to the rest of us what a conservationist is or isn’t. You certainly have no business misappropriating the words of Edward Abbey, especially if you never knew the man.”

In a recent email, Don Murie said of the Lummis paddling bill: “I can assure you that the Muries would be opposed.”

The late David Brower once told me in Jackson: “The true mark of a conservationist is someone who will stand up and proclaim that a place should be protected for its wildlife and intrinsic natural values, even if the advocate never sets foot inside it.”

Todd Wilkinson writes his column for the News&Guide every week. He is the author of “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet.”

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(6) comments

Marion Dickinson

Are you also in favor of banning hiking in Yellowstone and other "special" areas? That probably does more damage than a boat being paddled down a river. Should everyone, including environmentalists stay home, preferably in a smaller than 100 sf house so they use no oil, no gas, prevent pollution from vehicles?
The environmental movement is extremely hypocritical, how many meetings to the have where many of them are flying in on private jets? Look at the pollution of world "leaders" flying in hundreds of jets carrying one or two people. it is especially glaring hypocrisy when teleconferencing is available everywhere but ignored.
I think the first place to start is having each one wanting restrictions on other people having to reveal every gallon of fuel they used for every use they have, then setting by example.

Leslie Patten

If you riverpackers really have a "passion for wild places" as Aaron Pruzan says on your website, then support keeping the FEW wild places left in the U.S. There are thousands of miles inside and outside National Parks, forests and otherwise that you can enjoy nature and paddle on. Paddling would simply contribute to the already overly gentrification of our first and still wildest National Park

Thomas Turiano

Reed, and others, many of your fears might be calmed if you familiarized yourself a little better with the issue. Check out....

Reed Dils

As a retired river outfitter on the Nation's most boated river, The Arkansas in Colorado, and a life long conservationist, I strongly stand with Doug Peacock's position on not opening up Yellowstone and Grand teton NP's rivers and streams to whitewater boating. Some places are sacred and historical activities need to be protected. Neither Park has the time or money to work on a management plan that could take years. Wildlife should be the number one priority in both parks. Can you imagine 100's of rafts daily on the Madison or Yellowstone Rivers.? Our Nation has more than enough rivers to run without adding those in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Pack rafters and others should better spend their time working to open up boating access in states like Colorado and Wyoming where the "right to float" through private property is never a given.

Thomas Turiano

Hmmm.. I don't understand why its ok for snowmobilers, anglers, horsemen, hikers, and car drivers to love Yellowstone, see it as a mecca for their activity, actively pursue their passion, and in some cases evoke hero's words and tout conservation. But when paddlers respectfully ask for restored access, actively pursue their passion, and find common inspiration with the legends, they're called blasphemous and self-serving. Will someone please explain?

Chad guenter

Very well put Thomas.

IF they could, the author and proponents of this opinion piece would ban the other activities you listed as well. In their eyes, humans are not "natural" and in their eyes our complete removal from "wild" areas is the goal.

To the modern day "environmentalists", Human Beings are the enemy and must be eradicated from most of "Mother Gaia", it IS a Religion and we as Humans are their "Satan"/Evil.

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