You see the signs everywhere: Don’t feed the bears.
But for 81-year-old Mary Musselman, who has been told repeatedly by Florida wildlife officials not to feed the black bears that come onto her property, she refused to listen. Now, according to CNN on Feb. 1, Musselman finds herself in jail.
Treating her back yard in Sebring, Fla. as if it were a home to stray puppies, the elderly woman who lives with her husband repeatedly put out bowls of dog food – up to 18 bowls a day – for the black bears, who of course kept coming, and bringing with them more bears for the easy meal.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission issued warnings to Musselman, and even were forced to put down one of the bears she kept feeding.
Despite incredible patience on the part of officials – they had multiple talks Musselman to educate her about the dangers in feeding the bears, even bringing pamphlets and instructional videos to her – the retired gym teacher refused to back down.
"Feeding bears results in bears losing their fear of people," explained Gary Morse, an FWC spokesperson. Morse said they went the “extra mile” in dealing with Musselman, but “she told us she wasn't going to stop,” Morse recalled.
And she was true to her word.
Fearing the bears would “starve” if not fed dog food from bowls in her backyard, Musselman continued to feed the bears, even though officials were keeping an eye on her.
On Nov. 8, she was issued a warning. Officials returned on Nov. 19 and caught her feeding two bears and again educated her as to the need to stop. On Dec. 4, she was given an appearance notice and issued an order to stop, with the judge requiring weekly visits to monitor her compliance.
Back in court came Musselman on Dec. 24, who admitted to feeding more bears. She was found guilty of two counts of feeding wildlife and placed on probation for one year.
Of course, Musselman didn’t stop, but then things got really out of hand.
On Dec. 29, FWC officers say they found evidence Musselman was continuing to feed bears, so a judge issued an arrest order. When the wildlife officers arrived at her home, Musselman resisted and threatened to kill the officers.
Now she sits in jail, arrested for violating her parole and assault.
“Feeding wildlife puts the community at risk from property destruction to possible danger of life and limb,” Morse explained. “She didn't want to accept that fact that they'd be fine without her... they hibernate when there is no food.”