Bear Kinship

Bear Spirit


"The Man Who Lives With Bears" - Responses

RE: The Man Who Lives With Bears, the story of Charlie Vandergraw

Response From Ann Bryant

I can't speak as anyone with this much or this type of experience with bears, but I do know from working with film crews that too often we do not have final control over the ultimate message that comes across when a piece is completed and aired.

It is unfortunate that the 'Dangerous Beast' card was played throughout (makes a piece so much more sensational for certain viewers, although certainly not for us) and I have a feeling that Charlie...don't know him, though... may not have been a willing participant or too pleased with the way the narrator repeatedly emphasized that nonsense.

I'm curious to know if he was given a chance to preview before it aired. I've been very disappointed numerous times with what the editing staff does with a piece that was filmed with a crew who I let into my little Bear World. I tell the producers when they first call that I am not interested in filming with anyone who is going to demonize or sensationalize my bears or use them to promote fear. They always promise me they won't and we tend to develop a trusting relationship as we work in the field with the bears. But then! I see what airs and too often it leaves me reeling or aghast at the final outcome.

Steve, remember that horrible piece from Good Morning America last summer?  I was furious over that!

Another time I worked with a crew sent from NY (Dan Rather) and they seemed to 'get it' and when we finished I felt confident that my main message (bears are not dangerous man-eating monsters) would be coming through loud and clear.

Instead, much to my dismay, they had spoken to a fish and game biologist as they were putting the piece together and he completely countered everything I had told them. He even told them that numerous people had been killed in both Nevada and California by black bears, a total outright lie, as no one has ever been killed by a black bear in either state...ever!

I had told the crew that fact and he said just the opposite but rather than look it up they went with what he said because he's a biologist who wears a uniform and I'm not. So my thoughts are that whoever filmed and edited this particular show on Charlie decided they had to add some of the propaganda from that bear biologist who said it was pretty much just a matter of time before the bears kill him.

But I don't know anything for sure, this is just what ran through my mind as I was watching it, could be all off.

But, thanks, Brenden for finding and sharing it. It was fascinating to see the blacks and grizzlies interacting.

Ann Bryant
Executive Director
BEAR League

Reply by Steve Stringham

Hello All,

Ann is, of course, right in suspecting that the tone of the "film" was quite different than had been promised by the film maker Jon Alwen, who is on the list of people who receive these emails.

So you might ask him how it became so distorted. (I was there during the last two days of filming and was filmed giving my assessment of Charlie Vandergaw's relationship with the bears. He is extremely careful and disciplined.)

Someone saying that "Its only a matter of time" until one of the bears mauls Charlie makes no more sense than saying that "It's only a matter of time" until each and every one of us dies. The only justification for emphasizing danger is to discourage John and Jane Doe from trying to duplicate what Charlie has done.

Each of us who works closely with bears -- including Ann -- realizes all too well the care that is necessary. It's not something to jump into blindly. But neither are most bears looking for trouble. The problem is not that the average bear is ferocious, but that a tiny fraction of bears (and people) are.

Those of us who have years of experience in close contact with bears become adept at reading even subtle signals of pending danger with even one of those rare bears so that we have a good chance of steering clear.

People who think that they can just step out of an airplane or a car or boat and do what we do are as silly as kids who think they can jump into an airplane and fly it without prior training or practice. And even pilots who learn to fly under calm conditions may not be able to cope with stormy conditions. The weather isn't out to get you. But it can. 99% of the bears aren't out to get anyone. But, a few times a year, one does. The odds of it happening to any given person aren't zero; but they are say one in 10,000 for fools, one in a million for careful people, and one in tens of millions for skilled individuals.

Steve Stringham

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