Wild in Alaska: Charlie Vandergaw Shares Home With Grizzlies

"I couldn't kill a porcupine if it was chewing on the cabin," Vandergaw admitted.

Remarkably, much of Vandergaw's transformation from bear hunter to steward of Bear Haven is captured on videotape he shot himself, well before Animal Planet's cameras arrived. His video archives reveal a pivotal moment of a bear seeking contact with Vandergaw in the grass.

Vandergaw recalled the interaction: "I had a bear that would not approach me unless it was dragging itself on its belly. I let him do that for a while and then I started dragging myself to him. And when we touched noses then he'd get up and we'd go about our business."

Hypnotized by the solitude of grizzly country, Vandergaw has bid a farewell to arms, but others have not.

And after spending more than 20 years trying to teach wild bears to trust humans, his beloved companions are a trigger pull away from being killed.

Can Vandergaw's Bear Haven Survive Legal Threat?

As cameras rolled Vandergaw spotted a rifle-toting hunter taking aim in the woods. He didn't take the intrusion lying down.

"If there's one shot that goes off, buddy, you're going back to town in handcuffs. Put your gun down. Anybody who wants to come here and see the bears is welcome to do that. But no guns, and no one will be tolerated hunting around here," Vandergaw said.

In a disarming gesture, Vandergaw then welcomed the intruder. Whether out of good manners or as a protective peace offering, Vandergaw invited him to watch bears over a cup of coffee. Initially charmed, the hunter was spooked by Vandergaw's nonchalance as black bears draped their arms around his shoulders and neck.

"That feels unnatural," he said as the startling physical interaction played out before his eyes.

Vandergaw will be the first to tell you that by having formerly fed bears at his cabin he has created an unnatural, natural place, at least to the edge of his lawn.

"I've created a fairyland here. This is not the real world. This is a place that they feel very comfortable in. They're comfortable with me, and they're comfortable with other humans here," said Vandergaw.

But for how long? Farley is cautious about the future of anyone who wants to get close to these predators.

"Why do we want to give a hug to something that's big, warm and fuzzy? The difference here is, this big, warm fuzzy thing will rip your head off and eat you, depending on the circumstance," Farley said.

For a quarter century, Vandergaw's greatest fear has not been the grizzlies and black bears in his backyard, but human intrusion on his paradise.

Paradise is about to be lost. State authorities are mounting a legal fight, and they're gunning for bears – Vandergaw's.

And watch Richard Terry's six-part series on Charlie Vandergaw airing on Animal Planet's "Stranger Among Bears."

For more information on Charlie Vandergaw and Bear Haven, click here.

For more information on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, click here.

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