Only weeks after starring in the Animal Planet movie "Stranger Among Bears," retired Anchorage schoolteacher Charlie Vandergaw has been charged with 20 counts of illegally feeding game.
The criminal misdemeanor charges, filed by the state Department of Law on Friday, cover bear feedings from May 10 to Sept. 19 last year at "Bear Haven," Vandergaw's remote summer home in the Yentna River drainage north of the community of Alexander Creek.
Charging documents, however, make it clear that the bear feeding has been going on far longer. They say that in interviews with Alaska State Troopers, "Vandergaw acknowledged that he was feeding the bears at his cabin and stated that he couldn't immediately stop. Vandergaw admitted to feeding the bears for the past 20 years."
As is documented in "Stranger Among Bears," Vandergaw's activities at Bear Haven go beyond feeding bears into the realm of taming and training them. After the Anchorage Daily News reported on Bear Haven in early 2007, Vandergaw invited in reporters from the Australian version of "60 Minutes" and ABC News. State authorities were angered that he appeared to be flouting a state law that bans the feeding of bears at the same time officials in Anchorage and elsewhere were citing people for feeding bears that simply got into poorly contained garbage.
The simmering dispute between authorities, who had previously ticketed Vandergaw for feeding bears, and the one-time wrestling coach at Dimond High School came to a head when filmmaker Richard Terry was bitten by a bear while making the Animal Planet film at Bear Haven last summer. Authorities then began to learn of the connections between Vandergaw and filmmakers.
"Vandergaw," according to charging documents, "contracted with Firecracker Films, a British film company, to make an exclusive documentary. The film company paid Vandergaw and his associate, Carla Garrod, owner of C&C Bear Imagery, a total of $70,000 plus expenses for making the film."
Garrod, an Anchorage real-estate appraiser and regular visitor to Bear Haven, has been charged with five counts of feeding game at Bear Haven. Vandergaw friend Terry Cartee, a board member of the Alaska Airmen's Association, also faces one count of feeding game and a second charge of committing a wildlife crime while licensed as an Alaska big-game guide.
According to the charging documents, troopers have found evidence that "Cartee purchased dog food 10 different times at Sam's Club between May 19, 2008 and July 3, 2008" and flew it to Bear Haven for Vandergaw. Troopers served a search warrant on Vandergaw at Bear Haven on Sept. 26 last year.
In the cabins and sheds there, the charging documents said, troopers "found 1,040 pounds of dog food ... and no dogs were present."
Vandergaw told a Daily News reporter in 2007 that he was food-conditioning bears using dog food. He has never denied creating the situation at Bear Haven, where more than a dozen bears -- both black and grizzly -- sometimes congregate waiting to be fed.
The state charges filed against Vandergaw, Garrod and Cartee document a large-scale feeding program. They say records show Cartee purchased about 2,800 pounds of dog food for Bear Haven last year, and Garrod bought another 7,300 pounds, plus some 844 pounds of Wal-Mart cookies.
The cookies were a special treat for the bears.
Vandergaw contends that what he has been doing at Bear Haven is far safer that what the late Timothy Treadwell did because the situation is man-made. Treadwell tried to make friends with wild bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve. And for 13 summers, the Californian got away with cavorting among the grizzlies that concentrate in Hallo and Kaflia bays.
In the fall of 2003, however, he and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten by a bear at Kaflia. Vandergaw, a former bear hunter, has said he is not worried about that happening to him, but he has confessed to having some close calls with bears.
The charges against him, Garrod and Cartee were filed in state Superior Court in Palmer. A hearing date has yet to be set. All of the charges are Class A misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.