Mat-Su 'bear man' pleads guilty to charges of feeding game

VANDERGAW: Plea deal includes fine, plus suspended jail time.

April 6, 2010 

Black and grizzly bears wander around on Charlie Vandergaw's property near Alexander Creek. Game officials consider feeding bears a danger to humans, especially if others duplicate the behavior.

PHOTO BY ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

After nearly a year of legal wrangling, Charlie Vandergaw, who for 20 years fed and coexisted with the bears at his Mat-Su cabin, has pleaded guilty to eight counts of intentionally feeding game, according to the state Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals.

Vandergaw, 71, was charged last May with 20 counts of illegally feeding game at his "Bear Haven" in the Yentna River valley, about 50 miles northwest of Anchorage.

Vandergaw pleaded guilty last week to eight of the charges and prosecutors have dismissed the remaining 12, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson said. A plea agreement, if accepted by the judge, calls for Vandergaw to receive 180 days of suspended jail time, a fine of between $20,000 and $72,000 and three years of probation, Peterson said.

Vandergaw's sentencing is set for Thursday morning in Palmer.

The criminal misdemeanor charges against Vandergaw covered bear feedings from May 10 to Sept. 19, 2008, though charging documents alleged the feedings of both black and grizzly bears had been going on far longer.

Charging documents say troopers can document more than 10,000 pounds of dog food being flown to Bear Haven, although no dogs are there.

Vandergaw and his bears have also been documented on television. The Animal Planet show "Stranger Among Bears," which aired last spring, showed him feeding the bears.

A woman who answered the phone at Vandergaw's Anchorage home on Tuesday said he wouldn't be available to comment until later in the week. Vandergaw's attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, did not return a message seeking comment.

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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