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81-year-old Fla. woman arrested, held without bond — for feeding bears

An 81-year-old Florida woman was arrested on Wednesday — and is being held with no bond — after she was repeatedly warned not to feed bears from her property and refused to comply, authorities said Sunday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) first discovered Mary Musselman’s bear-feeding habits when they received complaints from her neighbors in Sebring Fla., in November, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the wildlife commission.

The FWC had already canvassed the area through the summer and fall in an effort to educate residents on the consequences of feeding wildlife after reports of increased bear sightings in Sebring.

Wildlife officers went to Musselman’s home on Nov. 12 and immediately spotted a black bear on her property, Morse said. “It was coming right up to people.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife

A bear digs through a garbage can in Florida.

The bear was caught and had to be euthanized because “when we see this type of behavior, the public is threatened,” Morse said.

“Bears that are fed are more likely to closely approach people, which increases the risk of injury by bears,” said, Dave Garshelis, Ph. D., a bear research scientist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

On Nov. 19, officers visited Musselman’s property again and saw that she was putting out birdseed and dog food.

"She admitted to purposefully feeding bears," Morse said. Musselman told officers she was afraid the bears would starve if she didn’t feed them, Morse said.

Then, after being warned, bird seed and dog food were once again found on Musselman’s lawn three separate times in December, officials said.

She was given two misdemeanors and another warning, but on Jan. 5 an officer did a weekly inspection and found Musselman was still continuing to feed bears, which landed her in court on Jan. 24.

She was told, “If she violated the conditions of her probation she’d be picked up and jailed,” Morse said.

During a subsequent inspection, more food was found on Musselman’s property, and the Wildlife Conservation Commission kept their promise, arresting her on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

In the process of being brought into custody she allegedly fought and kicked officers, which resulted in charges of resisting arrest and battery on a law enforcement officer.

She additionally "threatened to shoot and kill the officer if she set foot on her property again," Morse said. "And I will tell you, that is recorded on tape."

Musselman is being held at the Highlands County Jail on four charges and will likely remain there until her court date in March, Morse said. “There’s no bond,” he said.

“The FWC is sad that things have reached this level of unpleasantness,” Morse said.