'Bear Haven' man charged with feeding animals

Prosecutors say Vandergaw fed dog food, cookies to bears

Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ANCHORAGE - An Alaska man featured in a six-part Animal Planet series on living with bears has been charged with illegally feeding the animals.

Alaska prosecutors filed 20 misdemeanor counts against 70-year-old Charles E. Vandergaw, a retired Anchorage teacher and wrestling coach who for decades has cohabited with wild grizzly and black bears at his remote cabin in the Yentna River drainage about 40 miles north of Anchorage.

The charges were filed Friday in Palmer. Prosecutors charge Vandergaw with illegally feeding dog food and cookies to bears from May through September 2008 at the camp he calls "Bear Haven."

"The satiated bears succumb to Charlie's affections, often taking walks with him, allowing him to pet them and even sit astride them," according to the Animal Planet Web site.

A call left with Vandergaw's attorney was not immediately returned.

An associate, Carla J. Garrod, 53, was charged with five counts of feeding wild game. She said Tuesday she could not comment.

"We don't even have a copy of the charges," she said.

A third person, Terry A. Cartee, 62, a pilot and big game guide, was charged with feeding game and aiding or allowing a wildlife violation as a guide.

The Animal Planet series was titled, "Stranger Among Bears."

Vandergaw's close association with bears has been a subject of concern to wildlife authorities. He has been issued citations. Game officials consider feeding bears a danger to humans, especially if others duplicate the behavior.

Andrew Peterson, an assistant attorney general who filed the charges, told the Anchorage Daily News in November that a filmmaker was bitten in the leg by one of Vandergaw's bear. Vandergaw, however, said at the time the bears were conditioned to tolerate humans.

According to information filed with the charges, Alaska State Troopers on Sept. 26 executed a search warrant at Vandergaw's remote cabin and buildings. He acknowledged to investigators that he had been feeding bears for 20 years but said he could not immediately stop.

He said he started feeding the bears last year in May, and he remarked that it was getting expensive to continue. According to prosecutors, Vandergaw initially obtained a bear baiting permit to justify possession of the dog food at his camp but never did put the food at the appropriate distance from his cabin.

Troopers found 1,040 pounds of dog food on the property, but no dogs.

Vandergaw also acknowledged he had signed a contract for the documentary about his activities with bears through a contract with a British film company, Firecracker Films, which paid him and Garrod, owners of C&C bear Imagery, expenses of $70,000 for making the documentary.

Prosecutors questioned Richard I. Terry, an independent filmmaker hired by Firecracker Films. Terry told troopers that Vandergaw fed the bears twice daily, putting out one or two bags of food, and that Vandergaw transported most of it in his own airplane.

A search of Garrod's home produced receipts from Wal-Mart for 2,600 pounds of dog food and 844 pounds of cookies purchased by Garrod from May through September 2008. In all, investigators found receipts indicating 7,300 pounds of dog food had been purchased for the summer.

According to prosecutors, Vandergaw and Garrod received four wire transfers from Firecracker Films totally $78,969.11.

Troopers also found receipts for purchases made by Cartee, the licensed big game guide. Prosecutors said Cartee bought dog food 10 times at Sam's Club between May and July 2008 and was paid for expenses such as flying the dog food to the site and flying out Garrod and Terry.

The documentary describes how Vandergaw once hunted bears but quit after an encounter with a bear 20 years ago, shortly after he retired from teaching in 1985. A black bear appeared on his yard and crawled up to him on its belly. Vandergaw, according to the Animal Planet Web site, reciprocated by also dropping to his stomach and crawling toward the bear.

The event began "a long-lasting love affair" with the bears, according to the site.

In recent years, he reported being swiped at and even knocked unconscious by large bears.

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